yamas

Mindful Monday: The Yamas

Happy Monday, dearest ones!

Let’s explore in more detail the Eight-Limbed Path of YOGA.

While the path is eightfold, we can work on each of the steps simultaneously or in any order that evolves organically. Most of us come to the practice through the third step – asana – which is a wonderful entry point! Remember that yoga meets you exactly where you are without reservation or judgement.

The first step in the path is called YAMAS – they can be considered as five moral guidelines, ethical considerations or universal vows. Yamas are basically the DO-NOTS of yoga.

Patanjali instructs us in the Yoga Sutras that we should practice the Yamas on all levels:  in our actions, words and thoughts.

1. Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence, which includes physical, mental, and emotional violence towards others and the self. The starting point of your yoga practice begins with YOU. The most violence that we create is often towards ourselves through our reactions to events and others, habitually creating judgment, criticism, anger or irritation. I have observed within myself that for many years I habitually bullied and shamed and criticized myself which I mistakenly thought was motivating myself to achieve more and be more successful. As I began to observe this, slowly I realized how much violence I was directing inward and ultimately outward through these thought patterns. The most effective way to foster ahimsa is to practice being compassionate to yourself, first and foremost, and then towards others.  I try to allow my heart to remain open and loving and I strive to accept events, situations and others exactly as they are. Each time I experience my reactive self, I try to replace those thoughts and feelings with kindness, acceptance and love. This is very challenging and usually not very fun.  And I practice forgiving myself for not having compassion with practicing compassion.

2. Satya is the practice of truthfulness. We strive to live and speak our truth at all times. As always, we start with truthfulness towards ourselves – being honest and authentic with our own reality, opening to acceptance and loving gratitude.   Since Ahimsa must be practiced first, we must be careful to not speak a truth if we know it will cause harm to another. Living in your truth not only creates respect, honor and integrity but also provides the vision to clearly see the higher truths of the yogic path. It also gives those around us the strength and permission to walk proudly within their own truth.

3. Asteya is non-stealing, and is self-evident:  not taking what is not freely given. While this may on the surface seem easy to accomplish, when we look at the deeper implications of this Yama, we see how challenging this practice truly is. As an action, this is pretty clear-cut; obviously, we know not to take what is not ours, like theft of items from a store or someone’s home. But when we look at the level of words and thoughts, it becomes an entirely different practice. Asteya also refers to taking others’ thoughts and ideas and passing them off as our own. Constantly arriving late and having others’ wait for you is a form of stealing someone’s time. Practicing asteya also relates to dominating conversations without allowing the other person to speak and burdening others with our negative chatter (ahimsa).

4. Brahmacharya or continence technically refers to practicing abstinence or moderation in a sexual context, but the overarching thought is to practice control over all of our physical impulses of excess. The thought is that we attain knowledge, vigor, and increased energy when we channel the satisfaction of physical urges into higher goals. This applies to the overindulgence of food, wine, social media, binge watching TV shows, shopping and even getting addicted to the physical practice of yoga. To break the bonds that attach us to our excesses and addictions, we need both courage and will. And each time we overcome these impulses of excess we become stronger, healthier and wiser. One of the main goals in yoga is to create and maintain balance. And the simplest method for achieving balance is by practicing Brahmacharya, creating moderation in all of our activities. Practicing moderation is a way of conserving our energy, which can then be applied for higher spiritual purposes.

5. Aparigraha is the practice of non-coveting. Yoga teaches us to trust in the abundance of life. When we truly open up to the the truth that any and everything that we ever need shall be provided for us, we can resist the urge to cling, grasp, grip and possess anything. This is similar to the concept of stewardship – that we are all here to care for and pass on the gifts of this Earth – but we own nothing. As with all of our Yamas, this one can be so challenging in our consumer-driven society. How can we deprogram our minds’ need to own, possess, acquire and collect? When we know our true intrinsic value, we can stop searching for our worth to be defined as what we have and focus on who we are.

Whether you are an enlightened being who lives, breathes and eats the Yamas to perfection, or you are a flawed struggling yogi like me just trying to do better and be better each day, please, please, please practice compassion for yourself! You are doing the best you can each day. We all stumble, and we all fall and get back up.

Make it a great week friends!

Mindful Monday: Strength 


Happy Mindful  Monday, friends! I hope you had a lovely weekend. 
Yesterday was a special day where we honor and celebrate our fathers. When I think of my father, who I am so blessed is still with us, I think of strength. No, he doesn’t look anything like the dude pictured above.  My dad has a quiet strength that I’ve always leaned on. It’s given me an endless supply of confidence my entire life. When I was younger, my dad knew everything. And he is the most patient, kind, compassionate person I’ve ever met. 
I’m also so blessed that my son has two fathers in his life. His dad and his stepdad. These two special men are so devoted to my son. They are providers of everything my child needs to navigate this world; the most important being love and patience and support. 

When I think of a great father, it is someone who is strong and steady; wise; can fix anything; protector; sets boundaries and expectations. All of these qualities exude fatherly love IMO. It can sometimes seem like a thankless job. 

I was not able to spend the day with my dad yesterday as he is traveling in Asia. I was fortunate to spend part of it with my big brother and his family. And my mother. 

Maybe yesterday was a struggle for you. Perhaps you are missing your dad who is no longer here. I know some of you may not have had the best relationship with your father. He was lacking in some way that still causes your inner child so much pain. Or there was physical distance that separated you, as in my case. For many reasons, yesterday may have not been the happy, shiny image that you saw all over social media. 

The truth is, we give and receive this fatherly type of love to those around us all the time. We’ve all had to fill in as some type of a father figure at some points in our lives. Families pull together to plug in the gaps. Anytime someone has protected you from some external threat or shielded you from some pain. Anytime you have fixed something for someone or even wrapped them in your arms and provided a shoulder to cry upon. Tossed a baseball or football with a child. Even picking up the dinner tab for family and friends. Quietly provided and received strength and confidence. These are the qualities that embody a father – you have received this type of love from some fatherly source in your life. 

Yoga teaches us to understand that everything happens exactly as it should. Whether your childhood relationship with your father was lacking or filled with love, it has shaped you into the amazing, strong, lovely person that you are. So important that we acknowledge exactly how we feel and learn to slowly heal and nurture our own inner child. 

Do you know what the best thing about childhood is? It’s that it’s over. Your safety, security and happiness are now in your hands. Nobody elses. 

Have a great week, yogis! Looking forward to seeing so many of you on your mats this week! 

Mindful Monday: Dharana

focus

Happy Monday before Christmas, friends! This time of year can have so much significance for us. Kids home from school. Time off from work. Inordinate amounts of time spent with family. For some, this can be a painful time of year, missing loved ones and dealing with loneliness and sadness. Many, myself included, have a marathon week of getting shopping done, gifts wrapped and staying focused on the many tasks at hand.

If you’ve been following our blog weekly, you’ll know that we’ve been covering Ashtanga yoga – the eight limbed path of yoga. Below is a quick recap of the previous five limbs that we’ve disussed.

  1. Yamas – the guidelines for social behavior: clean your home
  2. Niyamas – self-disciplines: reverence for your home
  3. Asanas – yoga poses: start to settle into your home
  4. Pranayama – breath control, life energy: animate your home
  5. Pratyahara – the withdrawal of external senses, to rest in your home.

As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, or immovable concentration of the mind. The root of the word is “dhar” which means to hold, maintain or keep. As the sixth limb of yoga, dharana is the practice of holding one’s mind onto a particular inner state or topic. We fix the mind on a single pointed focus, such as breath, the small space above the upper lip, or navel, without allowing the mind to  wander through memories, reflective thoughts, bodily sensations.

Through the disciplines of the previous limbs, we’ve definitely begun to develop our powers of concentration. Through yamas and niyamas, we’ve begun directing our attention. Through asanas, we have begun to temper the body and focus on specific and more subtle sensations. Through pranayama, we begin the task of refining our minds. Through pratyahara, we bring our senses under control and are still enough to become more observant of the mind. In dharana, concentration on a single point becomes effortless. You know the mind is concentrating when there is no sense of time passing. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation or dhyana, which is the seventh limb of yoga.

Now we truly begin to unleash the great potential for inner healing.

On behalf of all of the staff, teachers and management of YBD, we truly wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Mindful Monday: The Niyamas or the Dos of Yoga

image

Happy Monday, yogi friends! Wow what a whirlwind we’ve experienced in the span of literally one week! It was a Wednesday night when our Cubbies clinched the World Series and the very next Wednesday morning when we arose to a new President-Elect. During these unsettling times, we are so grateful for the consistency of our practice. We delve more deeply into a complete practice which extends far beyond the ability to bend over backwards or balance on your hands. We covered the age-old question “What is Yoga?” in a previous Mindful Monday post, explaining that it is an eight-limbed practice.

The first of the eight limbs of yoga is the Yamas or the moral and ethical guidelines of the practice. Today we discuss the second limb called the Niyamas or the duties and disciplines practiced by yogis to cultivate structure and confidence. These five tools provide the opportunity to refine ourselves and live more happily and productively. Like the yamas, Patanjali instructs us in the Yoga Sutras to practice the niyamas in thoughts, words and deeds.

Saucha means purification and cleanliness. The sages instruct that not only is cleanliness the foundation for bodily health but also the gateway to deeper and more tranquil states of meditation. Saucha extends to the consumption of pure foods, purity of intentions and thoughts and cultivating a pure body and mind. When we step onto our mats, we are purifying the body by eliminating toxins and by irrigating all cells with fresh blood and prana. We also have the opportunity to purify our minds as we cease the restless monkey mind and direct awareness to physical sensations. That’s why we feel so great after our practice! The mind is docile and we can experience the cosmic force of our own true nature.

Santosha  means contentment. It is about cultivating happiness and joy by learning to maintain equanimity of mind regardless of circumstances. In yoga, we challenge the perceived limits of our minds and bodies beyond the notion of comfort. We purposely make ourselves uncomfortable both mentally and physically on our mats and then practice breathing and finding contentment. In this way, we learn to look beyond an expectation of ease and comfort from life, as we cultivate a sense of gratitude and contentment that springs from deep within us and remains unaffected by temporary external circumstances. The key to santosha is acceptance and joyfulness.

Tapas literally means heat in the context of discipline and determined efforts. Tapas accompanies any discipline that is willingly and gladly accepted in order to bring about a change of some kind—whether it be improved health, a new habit, better concentration, or a different direction in life. Tapas focuses energy, creates fervor, and increases strength and confidence. Hopefully you’ve joined our Grateful Warrior challenge – a great example of discipline and determined efforts. I see so many of you burning your tapas when you drag yourself to a 6 a.m. class or come to practice after a long, stressful day at work rather than going home and having a few beers or a glass of wine. The more we cultivate this disciplined heat, the stronger and steadier we become!

Svādhyāya means self-study. You’ve undoubtedly experienced the benefits of self-reflection and self-scrutiny through your consistent yoga practice. Also, reading spiritual yogic texts and deepening your practice through this study is an important part of evaluating and refining who you are. It helps you to see the truth and make sensible choices, rather than operating on the basis of delusions about yourself or complacency and being on “auto-pilot” which often results in less than ideal decisions.

Ishvara Pranidhana is about surrendering to the divine or the universe. If you believe there is benevolent power greater than ourselves, you can set a silent intention at the beginning of class, devoting your practice to this force, or someone in your life that needs divine love and support. Meditation at the end of class is another opportunity to move your attention away from ‘me’ and focus instead on the divine presence within and without. Also, by surrendering to the divine, it releases you from the pressure of trying to ‘make things happen’ because when you surrender your will to this intelligence, everything flows as it should. Enjoy the doorways that open through being attentive to the divine.

Have a great week, yogis! I’d love to hear from you on ways that you have begun to integrate the yamas and niyamas into your life! Until next time, live, breathe, sweat and smile! Don’t forgot those stickers on the challenge board! You’re earning them one at a time.