It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
J. K. Rowling
There is a lot of talk about “living your dreams” or finding your “life passion”. When I take a moment to think about it, I never had solid dreams or goals. I had wants with no real plan to obtain those wants. When people ask me now the question about my goals or “what do you want?” I tend to make up a socially respectable response to avoid the blank stare, the incessant questioning, or the fake understanding of my thought process. My actual dreams that I have in my sleep also provide no guidance, they tend to be an almost hilarious and at times nonsensical story about aliens or talking alligators.
Now that I practice yoga, I’ve found more clarity regarding my goals. Yoga allows me to tame my mind and it interrupts the chatter in my mind that leads to self-doubt or questioning if I’m missing something in life. It is where I find the seventh limb of yoga: dhyana. Concentration and meditation, a mind uninterrupted. Dhyana is to the final step to lead the yogi into the eight limb of yoga: samadhi. That supreme bliss, unity with the Universal Spirit. For me, it’s unifying the scattered pieces of my mind so that it can be clear to find oneness with God. It is finding my breath when I have been holding it all day, its finding my voice when I have been holding my tongue, it is stretching my body when I have been tensing it, it is my release.
Dreams are nice to have especially the good ones when you are asleep in bed. However, I want to find what is real within myself. I do want to know what goals I have that are not influenced by what I feel is expected of me or what goals I have been told to have by my parents and society. Yoga has helped me and continues to help me find my own way in life. My own path is my nirvana.
Peace of mind is a perception of a calm and quiet mind.
My mind is a noisy place. It is very rarely if ever quiet. Its at the quietest when I practice yoga. And I truly practice to clear the busyness of my mind. It is what makes yoga more challenging, it is not just the asanas, it is my mind having a conversation with itself. It may be telling me that I cannot do a specific posture or that I need to hurry because I have so many things to do during the day. It is not always like that, there are times in which I am able to reach the sixth limb of yoga: dharana. I am able to be completely engrossed in my practice. These times are rare.
Dharana may come across as being single-minded because in it the yogi is focused completely on one task or object. Meditation is an example of dharana and I have never been able to meditate longer than five minutes. Sitting still has always been a challenge for me. It is a work in progress as I am sure that there is a deep benefit to mediation. I consider savasana to be the closest I can get to meditation because after a good practice, it is easier for my mind to rest.
There is one way that I have been able to have a stilled mind, though it could be debated that my mind is not actually stilled, and that is while I am reading. Yoga has still not been able to bring me to the state that reading does. If I am reading a good book, I am completely in the book that I hear or see nothing else around me. In fact, if I am interrupted, I can become agitated. This agitation comes when I am interrupted during a yoga practice. I am hoping to reach that same calmness and quiet as I grow in my yoga practice. This is why I practice with no music; to minimize distractions. The beauty of yoga is that it is not a straight and short journey; it is winding with hills, valleys, many climaxes, and there is no end to it. That certainly makes it better than a book.
This is a question that I ponder daily, one that I have had my entire life. Who am I? This question leads to even further questions. Why am I here? Who was I before I got here? In my last post, I talked about breath (pranayama) and how I use it to bring myself into the present. However, I would be remiss if I ignore that it does not help me understand who I am just yet. I admire those who seem to know who they are and where they are going. At this stage of my life, I am still figuring that out and one would think I would know that by now. Sometimes, I wonder if I my life will just be a finite journey seeking the answer to that question.
The fifth limb of yoga seeks to help answer that question: pratayahara. In a basic sense, this is self-examination. For a yogi to self-examine, she must be in tune with her senses. This may involve withdrawing from external stimuli and in today’s modern world, there is so much external stimuli, it becomes so overwhelming and loud that it drowns out our internal stimuli. For me to “find myself” and I say that with tongue in cheek, I need to be able to hear myself and to hear myself, I need to tune out mostly everything else. I say mostly because I still need to work, feed my family, and pay attention to my son and husband. However, even with all that I have going on, I need to find the good in it all, the joy, and with that, I may be able to “find myself”.
Yoga is a spiritual experience. It is a conversation between my soul and my body. The asana or posture is the third limb of yoga. On the outside, the asana can appear as a beautiful display of strength and/or flexibility such as Vrschikasana I or scorpion pose (see header image). It can also appear as a very relaxed pose such as savasana. Both asanas are beautiful as the intention of the asana is to “reduce fatigue and soothe nerves” (Iyengar, 1966). When practicing asana, the yogi is mindful and focused completely on nurturing herself. Of course, we are human, so our minds tend to wander. When my mind wanders in yoga practice, I will fall out of a pose or start holding my breath. The more I practice, the more I find it easier to stay focused within.
Our bodies are to be respected as they are divine. The asana helps us to show respect to our souls that reside within our bodies. As a woman, there are days in which I look in the mirror and I like what I see. I like what I see externally and internally. The more I practice yoga, the more days I have like this as I recognize that God is within me and all around me. The asana of yoga helps me in making that connection, in understanding my own divinity. My mind is more peaceful because of my practice of asana, the third limb of yoga. It is more peaceful because the practice of asana increases health within the physical body. When your physical body is healthy, this affects your mind. Your physical body sends signals that says “Hey, everything is all good here” which leads your mind to respond by having clearer thoughts, being able to relax, or being able to be completely focused on tasks.
Yes, asana practice exercises your body but its purpose is not to make your body look good, its purpose is to make both your mind and body feel good to lead to acceptance of your own divinity. Isn’t that what we all want?
I wrote about the yama of asteya in my last post. I talked about how I was stealing my time participating in activities that served no productive purpose. I was not using my energy in the right way which is what the fourth yama is about, how energy is directed: brahmacharya. Now this is commonly interpreted as meaning sexual restraint, celibacy. and chastity. However, I am a married woman with a child so clearly I am not chaste. So this yama would appear to not be relevant to my life. Appearances can be deceiving.
Brahmacharya is directing your energy correctly and for the right purpose. It would be easy to question what the right purpose is but it is also easy to know where your energy should be directed. Is your energy focused on obtaining more “things”? In our world, we do need money to get our basic needs met but a lot of the time, we find ourselves focused on external desires such as a big(ger) house, a newer car, name-brand items, having what others have (“Keeping up with the Joneses” as my mother would say) rather than stoking our internal fire and finding happiness from within. This is cliche, I understand this well, but it is possible to find happiness within one’s own self. And it makes a big difference in how you experience life. This is not saying that you will find nirvana but it is about accepting who you are with what you already have within.
In the fitness world, we may find ourselves trying to participate in the newest fitness exercise fad, wear the fashionable fitness attire, try the newest food diet, and possibly idolize a certain body type. We could be using that energy working on a fitness regimen that works specifically for our body. What works for one, may not work for others. Not to mention, much of what we see, particularly online, is not always reality. For me, I was not using my energy in the right way. I was participating in yoga challenges that focused on a specific pose for the day. This was not particularly helpful for me regarding my yoga growth because I was using my energy focusing on getting into the pose rather than focusing my energy on practicing what I could already do and learning what it took to actually get into the pose. I feel much better now that I longer participate in yoga challenges. In fact, I have started from the beginning with my yoga practice. And what I mean is not beginner classes but focusing on alignment and breath. These are areas that I was neglecting and now I am directing my energy towards what I have been avoiding.
This goes for my life off the mat as well, there are areas that were being avoided that need not be. I am redirecting my energy to the areas that need it, one specific area: my spirit.
“A complex is stealing energy from our personality.”
– Sunday Adelaja
I have recently downloaded an app to monitor my app usage, mainly my use of social media apps such as Instagram and Twitter. I had come to believe that these apps, specifically Instagram, were providing me with no substance and I was wasting time, time in which I could be productive. For example, the app called Stay Focused indicated that I spent 46 minutes on Instagram one day, granted this was due to watching an episode of Lizzo discussing overcoming problematic life views which was inspiring and motivational. However, was it a productive use of my time? Was I stealing time from myself that I cannot get back that I could have used focusing on projects and tasks that I needed to do or say that I never have time to do? Depends on whether I was being mindful in the moment, if I were really focused on what Lizzo was sharing in the video.
We have come to the yama of asteya or non-stealing. I am not a thief of physical items but I have been stealing from myself on the mat and off the mat. I do not allow myself to fully experience the moment even in my yoga practice. I find my mind wandering in mostly everything I do. If I am practicing yoga, I become engrossed in a stray thought which can lead me to falling out of a pose. I am aware that this happens and I am actively working to become more mindful and present. I am distracted, non-focused, thinking about everything else that I have to do rather than focusing on what I am actually doing. My time on Instagram is mostly mindlessly scrolling and a mode of procrastination. I am actively avoiding the tasks that I say I want to do and need to do. I need to practice yoga as it does much more than strengthen and stretch my body, it does the same action for my mind. I need to focus on my family’s growth and success. I need want to travel more but this requires intense planning. So I am starting from scratch to reclaim my time.
I used to spend time planning my yoga practices for the month. Each week, I targeted an area that I did not feel particularly strong in or needed more practice. It kept me consistent but over time, I stopped doing it and my practice suffered because of it. Not only my practice but my balance off the mat. I started to feel old insecurities and doubts creep back in, my energy began to decline, my worry levels increased, and I was losing my joy. I was stealing my joy by not providing time for myself, for the services that I needed, yet I was keeping things that I did not need. I do not want to steal from myself any longer. I have recommenced planning my yoga practices; even just the planning gave me joy. And I am left with a sense of accomplishment when I follow through on my practices. I want to grow within my spirituality and move beyond trying and into doing.
How often do we find ourselves not doing what we say we would do? We find ourselves participating in activities that serve no purpose; as in they are not providing us with joy or balance? Stealing from yourself is just as egregious as stealing from others. Our time on Earth is minuscule and we should not rob ourselves of our own lives.
As fire burns impurities and refines gold, so the fire of truth cleanses the yogi…
– B. K. S. Iyengar
I’ve been searching everywhere for truth. Do you know your own truth or are you still seeking it? There is a lot of conversation online and in books discussing finding one’s own truth and being authentic. The second principle of Yama (1st limb of yoga) is Satya or truth.
“If the mind thinks thoughts of truth, if the tongue speaks words of truth and if the whole life is based upon truth, then one becomes fit for union with the Infinite”.
– B. K. S. Iyengar
When I read the above quote in Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar, I had to pause and think about what this was saying to me. The first thought that I had was “I need to be more honest with myself”. How can I live in truth if I am dishonest with myself? Recently, I have found myself frustrated with others because of their lack of honesty. I have questioned whether or not I should be honest when others do not afford me that same respect. However, I cannot change what others do and I should not change myself to behave negatively because of what others do. Like your mother used to ask you “If such and such jumped off a bridge, you gonna jump off, too?” And most likely your answer was “No” because that would be stupid to jump off the bridge just because another fool did. It is the same concept, why mirror someone else’s dishonesty?
Truth in “thought, word, and deed”. Sometimes Most days, it feels that people no longer care about being truthful in their actions, speech, and thinking. It has become do whatever makes you look good; e.g. Instagram. Instagram is where I started losing my truth regarding fitness and yoga. I was spending too much time trying to get the right shot to post for a challenge that I was becoming jaded with my practice and frustrated. It was not that I did not enjoy attempting the postures for a yoga challenge but I began wondering “Why am I doing this? For what? Who is it for?” My Instagram page was starting to move away from its intention which was to keep me honest. There was situational irony here as instead of maintaining veracity, I was veering off into an arena that I was not liking. I was no longer helping myself and I also felt that I was no longer helping others. This did not feel good to my soul and that was not healthy.
Your mind and body gives signals when there is unease in the physical and spiritual sense. These signals can be difficulty sleeping, overeating, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, using drugs, anxiety, deep sadness with no obvious identifiable cause, obsessions, overspending, explosive responses to mundane issues, and a host of other signals. Many times we ignore these signs and keep trying to put on a positive front or for some, hide behind a shield of anger. One of the first steps to managing this unease and bringing back a sense of ease is one of the most difficult steps to take: telling yourself the damn truth. And yes, the truth can be really freaking painful. Do your best to not ignore it, ride it out, hug yourself, feel the pain but do not stew in it (you’re not trying to cook it), acknowledge it, and start breathing it out bit by bit.
If you do not practice yoga but you are curious, a great place to start is DoYogaWithMe. I am not affiliated with this site in any way. However, I respect their mission and they have quality content that is FREE. You do not need to register/create an account to use their free content. Peace and blessings, honeybees.
I not only practice yoga but I am a regular in the gym with weight lifting as it is one of my most favorite forms of mental health therapy. Therefore, my posts will not be focused completely on yoga. The purpose of this blog is health and wellness which is multifaceted. With that said, let us get to the point of today’s post. In my last post, I mentioned that I would talk about “yoga personality”, well, I changed my mind. I can tell you that is probably going to happen with my posts. And not every post will have a picture of my practice. Hey, I’m human.
My first blog series will focus on the Eight Limbs of Yoga and how they impact my life within my yoga practice and outside of my practice. When I first started practicing yoga, I had no idea about the spiritual component or what I refer to as the more academic portion of it. I had an idea that there was meditation (boring!) involved but I thought the meditation part came in while actually practicing the poses. Even whilst going to the gym on a regular basis to lift weight, I still felt something was missing. I began yoga because I knew that I needed to become more flexible. What I did not realize was that there is much more to yoga than “stretching”. As part of my yoga journey, I purchased “The Yoga Bible” by Christina Brown. And this was the first time that I was introduced to the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
The first limb that I will be discussing is “Yama”. Yama essentially means “moral constraint”. There are at least five parts to yama: Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigaha. There will be a post dedicated to each part. The part of the limb that will be in this post is “Ahimsa” which means “non-injury” and “non-violence”. It relates to compassion to all living beings which reminded me that I should show compassion to myself. It is not selfish to show compassion and love to oneself. In our effort to show compassion to others, we forget to care about ourselves and oftentimes the realization comes too late. This is an issue that I know all too well. On May 3, 2016, my best friend for over a decade passed away unexpectedly. She was 33 years old and had a 7-year-old daughter. The official cause of death was “natural causes”. I had last seen her two weeks prior and she looked incredibly tired. I had asked was she getting any rest and her daughter responded for her “She can’t sleep, she has too much to doooo.” We chuckled but that was not a good sign. The day of her passing, we text the whole day which was unusual for us as we were always very busy.
In these texts, she told me that she had not been feeling well but she had once again said “Yes” to another obligation. I text her that she needed to start saying “No” because it was too much and if she did not take it easy, something bad might happen. I had no clue that my words would come true and in the worst way possible. In my mind, when I said something “bad”, I thought maybe her going off on someone or she would become very ill. Death was the furthest from my mind. Admittedly, I was very worried about her that day and had planned to actually call her when we got off work and I never got the chance.
My friend gave more to life than what life gave to her. We both lived in fear of life and this caused us harm in the sense that we took no chances and ignored our pain. I no longer want to live in fear, I know that means making scary and painful decisions but life is fleeting. I will take baby steps and the first damn step I’m taking is compassion towards myself. This means not speaking negatively to myself, not calling myself names such as weak when I cannot lift a weight I think I should, getting angry with myself because I cannot do a specific asana (yet!), no longer being afraid to speak up about an idea or issue, and to respond to others with kindness (that kindness can simply be silence).
One thing to consider is that practicing compassion for oneself is difficult. It takes time to learn how to treat yourself with love and kindness. We are our own worst critics as the saying goes and we will make mistakes. However, in learning compassion, we will accept and acknowledge those mistakes and learn from them. We (this includes myself) strive for perfection but I wonder many times “What the hell is perfection?” Whatever it is, its probably boring. This constant need for perfection was a violent act against myself. It was not helping me mentally or physically. It led to bad decisions that I am still paying for and I am still working on not having regrets about those decisions. I am working on mercy and forgiveness to myself. Once I have forgiven myself, I will be able to work towards mercy and forgiveness towards others.
Stay tuned for my next post which will focus on Satya – truth.