I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that 80% of my readers are not avid Yogis. In fact, I would venture even further into this statement and say that most of you are afraid of Yoga or think Yoga is boring or think Yoga is hard or think Yoga is not for you or think you don’t have time for Yoga.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Stay with me here.
I’ll briefly fill you in on some history as I understand it. So way back in the day…like 200 AD…India practiced “the art of living” or basically living in balance and harmony and creating a life lived in peace. This dude called Patanjali had all of these followers and all of these writings and chants and methods to his “madness”. However, there are a ton of myths and stories and legends about this guy because, like Bill W. of AA, he sought anonymity. That didn’t work. And thank goodness because next thing we know we have this lovely book called the Yoga Sutras that has a blueprint with all of these steps on how to live your life and be a better person…kinda like Bill W. of AA and the 12 Steps. Hm. Connections.
(So ok…brief interjection…when I was actively attending AA before I re-discovered Yoga…I thought, “Wow. So many people who aren’t struggling with an addiction (do they exist?) need AA. Everyone needs it! Life lessons!” and now I’m all like, “Wooooooah….BILL! You’re just modeling the Yoga Sutra and Patanjali!”)
Anyways, Patanjali was truly onto something. A way of living. One in which you explore the inner workings of your mind and where you get to enjoy lasting peace. Lessons on how to control your restlessness and how to cultivate awareness.
It goes like this: You holistically focus on what will bring you personal completeness and a connection to the divine. And then you try. And the next day you try something else. And you fall down and get back up and keep trying until one day…it clicks. And even after it clicks, there will be days where you want to give up and it doesn’t make sense. …but you keep going. You keep moving forward. You forgive yourself. And you accept yourself.
Yoga is not all about the crazy poses or the long stretches or the time you have to spend in your head when you feel like you should be doing other things. It’s not about your Instagram page full of inversions or what someone can do that you can’t. It’s not about having the top of the line yoga gear or the amount of celebrity gurus you have taken classes from. It’s not about limiting yourself because of where you are physically. It’s not about instant gratification and immediate success.
I’ll tell you what it is about. It’s about universal morality and personal observances. It is about your body posture and how you control your breath through life. It is about controlling your senses by concentrating and cultivating inner perceptual awareness. It is devotion and meditation. It is achieving a union with your Higher Power.
And all of this…is attainable.
One of my assignments for my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Certification (or 200YTT if you ever see the acronym and wonder what it means), was to devote one day to a different limb. It didn’t have to be sequentially because each of these virtues are equal. One is not more important than the other. They all have value of some sort and aid in your personal growth. So here’s a brief breakdown of each of the Yamas, Niyamas, and Limbs and my daily devotion to them…
I started with what I thought would be the most attainable: Ahimsa or Non-Violence. I needed to have no negative thoughts or deeds. And I couldn’t harm anyone. I put my daughter on the bus, went to the dentist, had brunch with a friend and shopped for some olive oils, taught yoga and came home to follow through with dinner and bedtime. Seems pretty easy, right? Ha! I found moments where I would begin to think something negative and shut it down. Negative vibes are a thing I try to swerve away from as much as possible so the extra awareness was actually really cool. And to be honest, for someone who is a self proclaimed positive person, I was swatting those negative thoughts away like crazy!
A few days later was my daughter’s birthday and my favorite lesson of all the limbs. I devoted the day to Santosa/Santosha or Contentment: to enjoy and have gratitude for what I have and to learn from unpleasant experiences. I woke up with a deep and continuous feeling of impending doom. I forced myself to move through the motions. I felt like perhaps I was sick. I mustered through the day as best I could. Picking up her cake, checking into the hotel for her swimming party, and ordering pizza. I couldn’t practice self care. I felt frozen. Almost out of my body watching myself. The party started. Everyone kept telling me I didn’t look so good and I felt even worse. Then, I had my first panic attack. You know those things you read about. Yep. They’re real. As the guests left, the pressure in my heart lifted. I didn’t feel like I was going to be sick anymore. I have been in situations like this before. The kind where there are a lot of people and I get “social angsty”. That’s when I would drink. And it would “cure” all that. I thought I failed this day of Santosa/Santosha up until now…nearly a month later and reflecting. I accepted this moment just the way it was and rode that wave through. I truly believe the Universe was testing me. And looking back on that day now…wow. A definite lesson.
Ishvara Pranidhana or Devotion and Surrender: to be of service and to be an instrument of God through surrender was purposefully chosen on a day I worked my serving job. Because. Chyyyyeaaaah! I thought this’ll be easy. But GUESS what?! It was difficult. I decided to add a little spin to the mix and adopt the “WWJD” concept here and mentally block myself with that image of the bracelets from the late 90’s. I had to let mean, needy, rude, annoying human behaviors fall wayside. I had to put my ego in check. I’m not implying I tell people off or am rude myself, but a lot of ugly comes out in customer service and here was my moment to revaluate. I am not in control and merely in service and there is an omnipresent force that guides and directs the course of our lives. So I put my trust in that.
I had to work a double the next day at my serving job and thought to continue to challenge myself with Asteya or Non-Stealing: to not take what isn’t yours or wanting more than you need/given, to not gossip, and time management. This posed a real challenge as I tend to indulge in food that I don’t really need when I’m at work. Especially in the off season and when I am bored. So I packed what I needed and stuck to my plan. This virtue encourages you to speak wisely. I tend to talk just to talk and to fill the space. Even if it is about nonsense. And sometimes it takes a really long time to get to the point. For what…dramatic flair? I caught myself a lot where these past habits were now replaced with a conscious effort of Asteya. I didn’t want to steal anyones time. Super cool exercise for me to bring awareness within.
I really did well with Sauca or Purity. This limb was what I embodied my first year of sobriety. Being clean. Being fresh. From my food, to my body—inside and outside. I’m a major fan of detoxing and restoring and cutting the addiction. I may not always be successful and I’m not perfect, but I know the end result here and that is motivation in itself! Sauca feels like home to me. It just makes everything feel right. I’m looking forward to devoting a day to silence as I was only able to do it for half.
Tapas or Discipline and Austerity was a difficult day. I had my teacher training and then went to a family party. I felt very frustrated because my normal schedule has been disrupted. It has been for awhile and I trust it will flow into a new routine soon. Whether or not we want to believe or embrace it, we are creatures of habit. We thrive through routine. When I practice Tapas on a mental level it builds awareness and aligns my thoughts with the flow of the universe. Often times we focus on the goal, when we really need to accept and follow the steps. I feel like Tapas are the steps in our personal journey that help get us to the goal. The goal has significance, but Tapas inspire and keep us in line on the journey.
I tried Satya or Truthfulness the next day we had teacher training. I made an exerted effort to only speak unless it was to teach. I also attended a play and was able to envelop in the story. I really had to put my conditioned mind and thoughts aside and to see things as they actually were not as I wanted them to be. To help me with Satya, I applied Cilantro Oil to my big toes as that is the channel to my brain, pituitary and pineal. I chose this location because it is a very strong smelling oil yet I wanted it to flow to my 6th chakra. Cilantro is the Oil of Releasing Control. I also applied Frankincense to my 3rd eye as it is the Oil of Truth. I found that when I lie, I disconnect from myself and can’t trust myself. So why would I trust someone else? This limb serves as a constant reminder for me. Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it useful? Is it kind?
Svadhyaya or Study of the Sacred Text and One’s Self has been a super cool revelation during our Limb Project. Something I REALLY want to do is get down and deep into the Yoga Sutras. Do a book study. However, I’m not quite there. In the meantime, I have a lot of really fantastic literature assigned from my teacher training that has opened up a lot of channels within me for my teaching….even though it is sometimes a “hard read”. I feel as if it has been inspiring not only for its content, but for how I normally would have read something (start to finish). I bounce around more …and that oddly seems to be working for me. I was having a rough patch and needed a break so I turned to my Recovery Memoirs (which remind me of why I’m on my path) and then went back and read some of our readings and BOOM. Inspiration.
And then there was Brahmacharya or Non-Lust…which was to difficult to put my finger on. Avoiding meaningless sexual encounters was a breeze. I’m married. Ok, so no sex. We could do that for a day, but there had to be more to it than this. What was I going to takeaway from this yama? What was Patanjali’s intent here? I was supposed to really be in tune with my spiritual side and to practice withholding from any interests that pulled me off center from my Source. Basically really strengthening my relationship and communion with the Divine. I gather in order to live a pure life and to understand my true identity, I must let the physical pleasures of the world fall wayside and focus on the development of my Supreme soul. So I had no sex and I tried to live in the present and avoided pleasure seeking crutches. And that is really hard. I will be devoting a day to this again soon!
I thought that the next day would be beneficial to practice Dharana or Concentration. I devoted ten minutes in the morning, mid afternoon and before bed to a mantra/intention. Each time I tried a different technique. The first was to close my eyes and imagine an old movie film that counts down. Black and white picture, kind of crackly. And when it gets to one: my mantra is typed out. Then, I start the process over. I set a stopwatch and went as long as I could. The next technique I tried was diffusing an essential oil blend of Ylang Ylang (the Oil of the Inner Child) and Clary Sage (the Oil of Clarity and Vision) and watched the steam pour from the diffuser. I envisioned my mantra dancing around in swirls. I had to bust out a couple of other yoga tools here: pranayama-breathing and chakra sounds. That really enhanced this experience. My last meditation was done at night in the dark with candles and I put my body in a super comfy restorative pose (Supported Savasana) in the middle of the living room. I put on music: the sound of rain in the jungle. When my thoughts would stray, I would block them by repeating my mantra in my head. I nearly drifted to sleep. I loved each of these techniques. And I feel like depending on the day, how I’m feeling, where I am, etc. will determine which way I want to practice Dharana.
Dhyana or Meditation only seemed like the most practical to follow suit. In Dharana you are consciously concentrating while in Dhyana you are not aware of distractions. You can mentally check out. I tried. And I will try again. I have a lot of chitta (mind chatter) that is currently being rewired and rerouted during these mental exercises. I trust I will reach Dhyana with continued practice.
Aparigraha or Non-Greed came right after Christmas and I have my husband to thank for the support for this. Letting go and hoarding my possessions, my daughter’s stuff, food…tend to happen for me. I don’t know why I always feel like I’m going to go without or have to have those “just in case”. So I did a major purge and organization ensued. All I have to say is I feel so much lighter. It has made me want to continue on in other areas of my home as well as my life.
Pratyahara or Sense Withdrawal for me was a day devoted to no social media and no cell phone. This is my #1 personal distraction whether it be with my daughter or while I’m cooking…even when I’m driving, reading, and watching a movie! I will legit look at my phone. I am most present and in the moment, when I’m practicing Asana (movement) or Meditation. I need to let it bleed into every aspect of my life so I can make true and authentic connections. I will then be able to get closer to Pratyahara.
My cousin’s daughter had a sleepover with my daughter during Christmas vacation and I was roped into some Asanas or Body Postures (what everyone thinks Yoga is). I decided to make a day of it and just let the yoga mats stay out all day. We practiced strength, balance, and flexibility. It was a total blast. We made up games and took breaks. It was a day devoted to workshopping and physical awareness. I believe asana really cultivates my natural flow and brings me to my center. From the most simple to the most challenging poses, I welcome them with open arms.
A few days later I taught one of my Yoga with Essential Oil classes and had a student come up to me after to let me know about her experience. I devoted a large portion of the class to Pranayama or Breathing Exercises. This particular student was shocked at how much breathing went into yoga and it was hard for her. She said she never realized how much she held her breath. She said she felt super relaxed. And that is the purpose of Pranayama. Since incorporating conscious breathing into my life, I have found it to be a major tool for me in helping to reduce my anxiety. So I consciously practice it everyday.
And then there is Samadhi or Contemplation: when the mind achieves stillness. I remembered how this summer when I went to a yoga retreat, I was very close to this. I decided to practice it in hot yoga because this class for me is when I feel the most connected to my higher power. I am able to go in about 20 minutes before class starts. It’s dark and there are candles lit. I applied Arborvitae (the Oil of Divine Grace) to the back of my neck and Sandalwood (the Oil of Sacred Devotion) to my heart. And I tried. I think I was closer to Dharana and Dhyana then Samadhi…but I’m on my way.
Phew. That’s it. That’s Yoga. Easy, right? Just kidding. That’s not my purpose in sharing with you.
My purpose is to show how the true roots of Yoga developed. So whether you may realize it or not, you have maybe already been unconsciously practicing Yoga. Yoga is a whole lot more than movement and what you see on the outside. So if you think you haven’t made a connection with it yet, then maybe you can evaluate one of the 8 Limbs and see you are, like me, on your way.
There is a lot that I have yet to learn. Since my practice has developed, I now seek ways to understand people and mostly how to forgive myself, accept myself, and how to evolve in my life for the short time I have on the physical Earth. I encourage you to take these suggestions as coping mechanisms with the energy we create and deal with in our life.
My soul honors your soul. I honor the place in you where the entire Universe resides. I honor the light, love, truth, beauty, and peace within you because it is also within me. In sharing these things, we are united, we are the same, we are one. All the love and light. Namaste.