My First True Love

Thinking back to being a kid who hated PE class and dreaded playing any sort of sport because of my social anxiety and fear of failure, it’s funny how my life now centers so much around physical activity. I love hiking, swimming, surfing, running, tennis, cycling, Pilates, barre... but always, ALWAYS, I come back to my first and truest love: Yoga.

Yoga was the first physical activity I ever did that didn’t make me fear failure. When I practiced asana, I felt free, unbound, unjudged, able to be content with myself exactly as I was.

I still feel that way. As a teenager, my yoga practice helped me feel more confident and more comfortable in my own skin. I learned to trust my intuition and my natural wisdom. It helped me overcome years of insomnia caused by incessant worrying. It reduced my anxiety and gave me strength to get through many bouts of depression.

In many ways, I am still that girl: an impatient perfectionist who worries too much, a little neurotic, often anxious, and struggling through bouts of depression. But through it all, yoga has given me a safe home to return to again and again. It hasn’t taken away my troubles but it has given me a constant and unwavering feeling of hope, Love, and connection that stays with me in always no matter what challenge I might be facing. Yoga is my ally when life gets chaotic. It’s where I return to rehab when my body becomes sore or injured from the other activities I do. It’s also where I feel most connected to my Source. Yoga practice for me is like a moving prayer, an offering, a chance to open up to the deepest and truest part of who I am.

I am forever grateful for my practice. It is the greatest possible gift now to be able to pay it forward by teaching yoga to others and helping them to rediscover the beautiful light within themselves.  I am forever grateful also to the many teachers throughout the years who have touched my soul and influenced my practice. Namaste.

 

SATYA: TRUTHFULNESS

Continuing in this series on the 8 limbs of yoga, we move on now to the second of the 5 yamas (ethical disciplines), which is satya, or truthfulness. (If you missed the previous posts in this series, scroll down to read about the 8 limbs of yoga, the 5 yamas, and ahimsa.)

Truthfulness for a yogi goes beyond simply refraining from lying. The deeper implication of satya is to live in accordance with your highest values and truth. In other words, you do what you say and you say what you do. As Gandhi beautifully put it, "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” 

When we feel the need to lie, it is helpful to determine the reason why. Dishonest speech usually stems from shame, fear, or self-doubt. For example, we might sometimes feel the need to lie or embellish the truth in order to fit in or feel accepted. If we feel the need to make ourselves appear richer, more successful, smarter, etc. than we are likely still living off a false set of beliefs based on self-doubt and fears of unworthiness. When we recognize this, there is an invitation to begin the powerful work of replacing our old mental story about ourselves with one of worthiness and self-love through meditation and mantra practice. After all, if we haven’t learned to love and accept ourselves, how can we expect others to love and accept us?

If we are lying because we feel ashamed of something that we did, it is probably an indication that we are not living in accordance with our own values. The impulse to lie then is also an opportunity to notice what it is in our lives that is out of balance. The dishonesty is really just a continuation of a previous negative behavior that now we feel the desire to cover up. The only way to reconcile this and move forward in a positive way is to address the root of the problem by enacting a lifestyle change that prevents that negative behavior from reoccurring.

In other instances, we might lie to avoid an uncomfortable situation. In these cases, it is useful to pause and reflect on what it is that you are so afraid of. What is really the worst thing that could happen? So often the fears that we have about how people will react to us if we are honest are completely made up in our own minds and not the reality of the situation at all. It is incredibly liberating to voice the truth in a kind and compassionate way and allow the people around us to respond without first over-analyzing how we assume they will react and changing our story to align with what is most easy or comfortable. 

As we begin to live and speak our Truth, we step out of our conditioned fear-based ideas about ourselves and others, and we step into our own abundant power and beauty, recognizing that there truly is no need to hide who we are. We will feel better about who we are because we have shed away the behaviors that are not in alignment with our highest values, and the people around us will begin to accept us because we have accepted ourselves.  

Yoga Sutras II.36 "When pure truth is developed, ones words manifest into reality."

 

Ahimsa: Non-Violence

The first of Patanjali’s 5 yamas (ethical disciplines) is ahimsa which translates as non-violence. From Patanjali’s point of view, it is not enough to personally abstain from hurting others; we must also not condone or provoke violent acts in other people (Sutra II.34). Since actions begin first as thoughts, it is imperative that we take measures to train ourselves to hold the attitude of lovingkindness. After all, the opposite of violence is love. Whenever we think negative or destructive thoughts, we are planting toxic seeds in our minds that then inevitably germinate into more ignorance and suffering. Practicing stilling the mind through meditation, in contrast, rewires the thought patterns in the mind and plants seeds of kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.

Equally as important as non-violence towards others is practicing non-violence towards ourselves, both in our habits and our thoughts. Destructive thoughts of self-doubt, unworthiness, and self-loathing must be weeded out by cultivating the opposite (Sutra II.35). The happier and more at peace we are within ourselves, the more that we naturally begin to radiate love and joy to those around us. Furthermore, “being firmly grounded in non-violence create as atmosphere in which others can let go of their hostility,” such that your own practice of ahimsa actual becomes contagious to those around you. (Sutra II.36) As Gandhi put it, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Yoga Sutras II.33 “Unwholesome thoughts can be neutralized by cultivating wholesome ones.”

Yoga Sutras II.34 “We ourselves may act upon unwholesome thoughts, such as wanting to harm someone, or we may cause or condone them in others; unwholesome thoughts may arise from greed, anger, or delusion; they may be mild, moderate, or extreme; but they never cease to ripen into ignorance and suffering. This is why one must cultivate wholesome thoughts.” 

Yoga Sutras II.36 ”Being firmly grounded in non-violence creates an atmosphere in which others can let go of their hostility.”

Translations taken from Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, 2003.

Yoga Sutras: The Yamas

 

In my post back in September, I began discussing the 8-limbed path of yoga as laid out by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. The 8 limbs serve as a road map by which we can come to achieve the goal of yoga, which is to calm our restless minds (citta vritti nirodhah) in order to reduce suffering and thereby learn to abide in the limitless freedom that is our own True Nature.

The first limb of yoga is yama which means “restraint.” If the goal of yoga is to abide in limitless freedom, it might seem strange then that the first thing we do is restrain ourselves. The word “restraint” and the word “freedom,” in fact, sound like they are in opposition to each other. Quite the contrary though, living our lives in accordance with these yamas actually helps us to still the turnings of our minds that normally cause anxiety and doubt, such that we can come to know a deeper type of freedom.

I would like to highlight something profound that Eddie Stern said at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence a few years back that really stuck with me. He said true freedom is not this lower version of freedom that most of us think of when we hear the word. Freedom is NOT doing whatever I want, whenever I want to. That is actually more like hedonism, and you are selling yourself short if that is all you believe is available to you. You are more than that. He went on to say that real freedom is the nature of your own True Being which is: complete Truth, unbound by anything (time, space, etc.), and the natural joy that comes from resting in that awareness.

There are 5 yamas or ethical disciplines that we following the path of yoga should adhere to as guidelines for how to conduct ourselves in relationship to the people and world around us if we hope to find this freedom of spirit. These include ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacarya (moderation), and aparigraha (non-hoarding). As Chip Hartranft so expertly points out in his translation of the Sutras, following these yamas “is not so much altruistic as it is practical.” While living in accordance with these values definitely benefits society, it just as much benefits YOU by virtue of the fact that this way of living reduces mental suffering and brings about peace of mind.