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”.
We, humans, are a fantastic species. We take many things for granted and one of those things is our breath. We breathe involuntarily, we cannot force ourselves to not breathe. We can only hold our breath for a certain amount of time before we are forced to breathe again. We are not dolphins whose breath takes conscious effort. Dolphins can decide to stop breathing and will only breathe again if they choose to do so. However, we can make our breath conscious. We can focus on the breaths we take to change the quality of our breath.
The fourth limb of yoga is important: pranayama. Breath control is not an exercise that can be taken lightly. Done improperly it can cause harm. Done properly, some yogis believe that it can help us as humans live longer. For me, it helps in my practice to increase stability and balance. It also helps me to breathe through more challenging asanas. Initially, I struggle with pranayama and partly this was due to my not fully understanding what prana meant. Not fully grasping the importance of focusing on my breath even when told as a child to “count to ten and breathe”. That made no sense to me and it rarely, if ever, calmed me down.
What I have learned with yoga and the continued practice of breath control is just that, I have to practice! We are not taught how to breathe, we just breathe. This leads us to not understanding our level of control in regards to our breath. Off the mat, when I am feeling moments of anxiety, frustration, anger, or an emotion that threatens to take control of my behavior, if I am able to pause and breathe, I find that I am able to actually calm down! Not only calm down but also remove the fuzziness that comes into my head in high emotive states that lead to responses that are not the most productive. I am not saying this works all the time, it does not. Sometimes, I am unable to calm myself or relax. Yet, I believe that with continued practice, I will be able to achieve a firm grasp of breath control. Breath is life, to honor myself, I must also honor my breath (that also means brushing and flossing!).
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?
1. You do not need special clothes to practice yoga in. One yogi is not better than the other because one yogi pays higher prices for a yoga name brand and another yogi chooses to wear affordable and comfortable clothing to practice yoga in. It is not a competition between who has the cutest yoga attire (okay, it is for some). However, this goes against the niyama: santosa. Santosa means contentment, if a yogi is focused on whether or not she has on the best yoga clothes, she is not content. If she is not content, she will not be able to be in the present and concentrate on her practice. This applies to life in general, when we focus on comparing ourselves to what others have or trying to get more (of what we do not need), we are not able to be in the present on focus on what we do need.
2. Yoga practice is best done in the morning on an empty stomach; particularly the more vigorous practices. The empty stomach is very important, trust me on this one. Initially, I balked at practice in the morning, I’m barely awake and my body is stiff. However, that is perfect, it is a great way to wake up mind and body. It allows for me to shake the cobwebs out from dreamworld, clear my mind so that it can be pure and fresh for the day. Śaucha is a niyama that means purity. An evening practice can also bring about this same level of mental purity by helping me release the strains of the day. In a yoga practice, we utilize pranayama which assists with physical cleansing, opening and aerating our lungs. This assists in purifying our body which for me in the mornings, means loosening the tightness that sleep brings and in the evening, letting go of the tightness that comes from sitting at a desk, typing on a computer, using my cell phone, or physical stress from interpersonal interactions.
3. Instagram yoga challenges should be done in moderation (if at all). There are many yogis who frown upon IG yoga challenges and see them as narcissistic grabs for free yoga swag from a company or focusing on the look of an asana rather than teaching people how to properly get into an asana, how to breathe, or even just focusing on the first step of the asana. This can lead to those who participate hurting themselves attempting an asana that is beyond their ability. In addition, those hosts running the challenges are not practicing tapas, a niyama that means working without a selfish motive. Not to mention, many are not licensed yoga teachers so potentially can cause harm because they are not providing safe instruction and guidance. When I initially began participating in yoga challenges, I stuck to the challenges that offered classes that focused on the asana of the day. This was most helpful and helped my practices. However, I started joining challenges because a friend was participating and there was no specific focus it seems outside of the asana was “cool” or had a silly theme like Game of Thrones. This did not help with svādhyāya or study of self, which is an integral part of yoga practice. There was no relationship between myself and the host(s) of the challenges so no mutual respect and comradeship. There was just me trying to copy a picture and not learning.
4. Start from the beginning and practice the foundations daily. Having a strong foundation will lead to growth. There is no need to push my body harder than necessary. No need to frustration and see reaching a level as a battle to be won. I was seeking personal gratification in getting myself in an asana rather than how my practice was enhancing my relationship with myself and my faith. I would find myself despairing when I could not do a certain asana. This happens in my daily life as well, if I made a mistake or if something did not go the way that I wanted, I despaired. I was not practicing the niyama: Īśvara pranidhāna, faith in a greater power than myself. In having faith in a higher power, there is no need to despair because all things will come through that power. Life should not be seen as a battle, its a journey, an adventure which means there will be mountains to climb, hills to fall down on, and as long as I am able, I will get back up and keep moving.
5. It’s way more to yoga than asanas and meditation. I thought yoga would be boring and have a lot of chanting. I was wrong in both aspects. Yes, some yoga methodologies do have chanting such as ashtanga. Speaking of ashtanga, I had no idea that there was diversity in yoga. I thought it was all the same, was not aware of the different types such as: kundalini, vinyasa, hatha, bhakti, and many more. It would have been helpful to do a little bit more research before jumping into yoga. It is okay that I did not as I am doing it now. I am a self-taught yogi, this is possible no matter what anyone tells you. One thing that I have taken from my yoga practice; a beautiful thing, is that I will continue to be a learner and there is always room for growth.
When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and past in order, too.
Currently, I am reading multiple books simultaneously. This does not seem very mindful, does it? It is for me as they each serve a specific purpose but a the same time, one purpose. In fact, they work together, specifically Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. You may be asking yourself how right now. For the past month, I have been writing about the first limb of yoga: yama. I have now come to the fifth yama: Aparigraha which means to be free from hoarding and collecting.
Marie Kondo works to help people essentially declutter and she writes in her introduction that when people declutter their homes, this affects them in a myriad of ways including aspects outside of their homes. For me, clutter in my home also leads to clutter in my mind. I am not referring to the normal clutter that brings me joy such as my child’s toys scattered everywhere or my many books on my bookshelf. I am referring to the clutter of objects and things that I do not need. Kondo mentions those who are very good at prettily storing things are still essentially hoarders. Is what you are storing something you actually need? Iyengar connected aparigraha to another yama: asteya which is non-stealing. Just as I do not steal things that I need or do not need, there is no need to hoard and collect things that I do not need immediately or even in the future.
This does not only apply to items. Holding on to anger or hurt, allowing it to build within is the same thing. There is no need to hoard and collect anger and hurt. It serves no purpose besides causing further pain within and eventually without. Hoarding negative energy is stealing positivity from your life. This is not to say that you nor I will not experience negativity, this is to say, we do not need to collect it and carry it with us like extra luggage. Yoga helps me to release negative energy, not hold on to it, leaves me feeling lighter yet full. I practice yoga in a decluttered space because with clutter, I am focused on the clutter around me rather than tidying the clutter that is within. How often does your mind feel cluttered? When you look at your surroundings, what do you see? A tidied space or a space cluttered with items you have no use for? What about in your mind? Is it cluttered because you are hoarding thoughts that serve no purpose besides making you feel worse than you already do? Tidy up your mind just as you would tidy up your personal space.
Since its Earth Day, when you are tidying up, make sure you recycle and if possible repurpose items.
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.