9 July 2018 by Quinn Taplin
The mind can bring you to all sorts of places while practicing Yoga. Allowing yourself to just Be may be the greatest challenge of your practice. The mind can take you to places of self-judgement and criticism, sadness, stress, happiness, inspiration and even pure joy. Whatever you are feeling, you are in a body and a mind that is constantly moving and unearthing new problems and solutions all while trying to bare a piece of that stillness we are all told to find. There’re many methods to bring you to stillness, but why on earth is it so hard?
A process of moving from diversion, to direction, to self-acceptance.
For many, stepping on your mat is an opportunity and a space to redirect your attention inward. A very important part of obtaining this in your yoga practice requires a presence into how you feel. A process of moving from diversion, to direction, to self-acceptance. It is a commitment to being here and now in what you are doing at this very moment. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali clearly lays out a specific method called Ashtanga Yoga. The Yama and Niyama’s are the first two branches of Patanjali’s eightfold path that provide you with a way of clean and simple living. They are the first and foremost basic tools to help you eliminate distraction to hone in on your presence while you are practicing. To put in simple words, the Yama’s (restraints) are practices you should not do, and the Niyama’s (observances) are practices you should do to contribute to a better state of self-being. These first two branches of Ashtanga are the first and foremost practice of Yoga that helps to clean the mind of all the distractions that can inhibit you from your daily life and asana practice. When applied together, these practices form an ethical way to be. Let’s have a look:
The Yama and Niyama’s
The five Yama’s involve your behavior towards yourself and the interaction you have with people and all that is around you. They include:
- Ahimsa: non-harming
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: non-excessiveness, moderation
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed
The five Niyama’s comprise your individual practices that relate to yourself. They include:
- Saucha: cleanliness of your body and mind
- Santosha: a behavior of contentment
- Tapas: self-discipline, the training your sense organs
- Svadhyaya: self-study, reflection and inner exploration
- Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender to your spiritual practice, or a higher power
Let me first say that its very normal to be confronted with wavering thoughts in your practice. As an example, take a look at your typical yoga classes today; in almost every class people are directing their energy to have validation as to whether or not they ‘fit in’. They compare themselves to others and indulge in these thoughts as a measure of self-worth. When you practice the Yama and Niyama’s especially in your daily life, they serve to reconnect you in directing your energy towards efficiency which then correlates to reduced interruption and steady practice.
Finding the balance between being soft and direct is just as important as putting in any amount of effort.
Working with the Yama and Niyama’s is no easy task and so It’s important to address character first before you can even think of maintaining your physical yoga practice. Let’s look at Brahmacharya (moderation), which shows up in many ways. Brahma literally means the ‘divine consciousness’ and charya, in this context, means ‘living’ or ‘one who is established in’. A literal definition of the fourth yama becomes not ‘celibacy’, nor ‘moderation’, but ‘being established in divine consciousness’, or ‘being established in the higher form of the mind’ (Grant, K. 2010, Applying the Fourth Yama, Brahmacharya to Daily Life). Observing Brahmacharya as the right use of energy leads us to ponder how and where we direct our energy. For example, if you are a student who has an attitude to drive and push the physical limits of your yoga asana practice, then consider for a moment where your energy is being directed the most. If you are truly honest with yourself, then you are most likely feeling exhausted. Does this sound like you? If so, then Brahmacharya is the perfect practice to begin building a stronger foundation to contain your energy. Finding the balance between being soft and direct is just as important as putting in any amount of effort.
Presence in Action
We are so often engrained in our patterns of behavior that noticing them is easy, but actually changing and applying new behaviors can be totally different. Integrating your attention of presence in action is the whole ground and point on yoga practice and the stresses and challenges of modern life make this integration even more urgent. Here is a list of tools you can use to bring you more into the present moment and back into your practice;
- Show up to practice every day and stay constant with how much energy you put into your whole practice, not just one part. The more you practice the more you will understand how to bring your mind back to presence.
- Keep your attention on your breathe, gaze and bandhas. If you become distracted, gently bring yourself back.
- Understand new asanas from the ground up one step at a time. Don’t rush yourself into a pose of full expression just because someone else’s body may be more capable than yours.
- Honor yourself where you are. Somedays may require less physical effort and more mental effort. Somedays you will be less flexible and other days you may feel more strong. Be gentle and feel without getting stuck in mindless doing.
- Look for similar patterns in your yoga asana practice and how you pilot your day-to-day life. Where can you practice being more adaptable to cultivate balance through awareness.
- Recognize that we are all humans coming from somewhere treading our own path. There is beauty in all of us.
- Relax and enjoy the process…
be inspired by the joy of trusting your own practice
Because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what the other person is doing next to you or what asana you are performing. Beauty and inspiration is all around you and the key is to connect with your purpose to find your focus in the midst of all distractions. Yoga is about untying the heavy knots and uniting what matters most to you by being your authentic self. Remember, the main thing that shapes our body is how we feel, so don’t waste your sacred moments in senseless distraction. Simply be inspired by the joy of trusting your own practice and naturally your true self will shine through.