EMBRACING THE YAMAS AND NIYAMAS IN CLASS
The Yamas and Niyamas form the first two limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. They provide us with guidelines on how to live the yogic lifestyle, to show respect and love for all and to express our highest qualities in our everyday lives. We can easily practice them on our mats in the following ways.
AHIMSA - Non violence – Non violence or non harming also extends to kindness and compassion. Respect where your body is today and set the intention at the beginning of your practice to be kind, loving and gentle with yourself. Remember that we can also be “violent” in our thoughts towards ourselves. Watch the thoughts and emotions that come up in the poses and notice the language you use to describe yourself as you practice. Remember that Yoga is a healing practice rooted in self care and love. There are many ways to practice yoga asana and pranayama – practice in such a way as to leave you feeling relaxed, calm, balanced, and clear, not further exhausted or over stimulated or even worse, injured!
SATYA - Truth and integrity – Assess yourself honestly about where you are in the practice right now and what you can do safely. Our bodies change on a daily basis. Take a moment at the beginning of your practice to acknowledge how you are feeling physically and emotionally in that exact moment. Our energy, flexibility and strength are affected by what you eat, how much sleep you have had, how stressed you are, your injuries, medical conditions etc. Practicing inappropriately or beyond your capabilities does not serve in any way! Be truthful with your teacher as well –let them know how you are feeling or any injuries or conditions you are dealing so that they may support you in your practice. Honesty builds the trust (in your teacher and yourself) needed to deepen your practice and to attempt more advanced poses.
ASTEYA - Non stealing – I always say “don’t take from your body what it is not ready to give freely”. Learn to recognize your “edge” – that place of resistance, exhaustion or fear. Back off just a little, try and stay there and breathe and notice what changes. Sometime greater movement may come, and some days not. Yoga is not so much about getting anywhere, but rather about learning to be OK with where you are. Other ways of “stealing” from yourself include finding excuses not to practice, not giving your best in that moment or even being late for class or leaving early.
BRAMACHARYA - Moderation – Yoga is not just a “work out” – it is a “work in” that is designed to leave the body gently energized and the mind calm and clear. If we practice inappropriately we can stress the nervous system and easily deplete or even injure ourselves. Commit to moving with attention and intention. Allow yourself to really focus on the breath and move slowly into and out of poses. Learn how to use the minimum amount of effort to get the maximum result! Avoid moving too fast or taking it too deep too quickly. Remember to practice regularly – not too much, not too little. Moderation is the key to building vitality!
APARIGRHA – non greediness/non coveting – Coveting, like stealing, is rooted in greed or a sense of lack. Don’t look at what others can do in the practice – keep your focus within – stay out of comparison and judgment so that resentment or jealousy do not enter your heart. Learn to celebrate the success others are experiencing right now, knowing that it may have come from many years of disciplined hard work or just how their body is built! Notice any attachments you have to certain poses, a way of doing a pose, or even a teacher… learn to be open to whatever the pose brings to you on the day and stay open to what the teacher has to share. When we no longer covet we can move into a more generous way of being which keeps us feeling light of spirit!
SAUCHA – Cleanliness – Simply put, come to your mat as clean of body and mind as possible. You always feel good when you have bathed and are wearing fresh clothes. Doing this shows respect for yourself, your practice and others. Keep your mat clean, and clean your hands and feet before practicing so you do not slip on the mat. Even putting the props away neatly after class and being mindful not to step on other students mats is honoring saucha.
Cleanliness and purity also relate to our mental state. Getting clear on your intentions behind your practice will help you to release any unnecessary and distracting thoughts and emotions.
SAMTOSHA - Contentment/Gratitude – Practice acceptance of your body and where you are in your practice today. Acknowledge how far you have come since your first class and know that going deeper into more advanced asana takes time. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” is a powerful way of finding contentment. Make a list of everything and everyone that has supported you in finding this time in your day to nurture yourself. Extend thanks to your teacher for their guidance and to your fellow students for their energetic support and sense of community.
TAPAS - Self-disciplined Effort – The practice requires disciplined effort for the fruits of one’s action to present. Self discipline might mean making sure you show up for your practice on a regular basis, but also giving of your best on that day. It may mean staying in a pose for slightly longer or maybe even knowing when to come out and rest. Self discipline asks for personal responsibility. Don't always wait on your teacher to encourage greater effort or to ask you to rest. Sometimes the practice can bring up intense experiences. Try not to project onto your teacher. Invite yourself to stay and work through any feelings of fear or frustration by bringing a gentle, loving attitude to your effort.
SVADHYAYA - Self-study – Svadhyaya or self knowledge is rooted in self awareness. I love the advice "Do not use your body to get into the pose, but rather use the pose to come to know your body-mind". Allow yourself to feel what is going on inside your body, and pause and reflect on the changes (or what is not changing) before moving to the next pose. As we come to know our bodies in the poses we learn to recognize our habits, or patterns, both physical and mental/emotional. Notice where there is resistance, impatience, judgment or comparison. Pay attention to how sensations, thoughts, emotions arise and then release as you move and breathe. Yoga teaches us the fine art of releasing and allowing and making space for new experiences and insights that serve our personal evolution.
ISVARA PRANIDHANA - Faith and devotion– Yoga recognizes the sacredness and interconnected of all life. Embracing a spiritually conscious life we set our intention to honor and protect all beings. We rise above our limited sense of self and express our highest qualities that facilitate universal love and connection. We practice respect and tolerance for all people, cultures and religions. Yoga teaches us how to make every moment an act of love, devotion and celebration!