We all start a yoga practice for different reasons; to reduce back pain, help manage stress or maybe it’s to get Madonna’s arms! Whatever that original intention, most of us will recognise it was a physical benefit we were seeking. Which makes sense, as it’s a physical practice, and so much of what we see or read about yoga is centered on the benefits to the physical body.
But there's so much more to yoga! And in classes there just isn't time to delve into the depths of yoga philosophy in Hatha and Vinyasa classes. With so many regular Do Your OM Thing Yogis, it seems like a good time to start sharing more with you.
You’re all experiencing the increase in strength and pain free movement that comes with a regular asana practice, so let’s look at some of the more subtle changes going on.
‘The Yamas’ are 5 ethical guidelines we try to follow, first written down by Patanjali in his yoga sutras;
Ahimsa - Non violence
Satya - Truthfulness
Asteya - Non stealing
Aparigraha - Non possessiveness
Brahmacharya - Moderation
So how can we use these concepts to take our yoga to the next level?
Practicing with Ahimsa means don't wrestle yourself into postures, don't push or force your body. Ahimsa goes deeper than purely physical, check and watch your violent or harmful thoughts that might come up during your yoga practice. Try to become the observer of those thoughts, and not follow them.
Satya is about being honest with yourself, with how you're feeling when you’re practicing. So if you're working with an injury, take variations or rest. Your breath is your best guide to the truth. If the breath has become uneven and strained, you’re not being honest with yourself.
None of us would take something that wasn’t ours, but how often do we steal from ourselves? It’s theft to think about work or your To Do List during savasana. You’re stealing your peace of mind! Practice yoga with Asteya and do not deny yourself a moment of liberation from the chitta vritti (mind chatter).
Desperate to get your heels down in Downward Facing Dog? Or felt envious of someone else's flexibility? Practicing yoga with Aparigraha means we don't give more significance to these things than they deserve. We free ourselves when we practice with non attachment. It’s ok to feel pleased when you notice your postures developing, but keep in mind it’s about the process.
Practicing with moderation or Brahmacharya might mean skipping a chaturanga or two in a vinyasa class, or mixing up styles don’t always go for strong styles of yoga, try restorative or a yin yoga class. Moderate your expectations of yourself, a regular yoga practice helps us achieve things we didn't think possible, as well as sometimes being a humbling experience, taking a rest or modifying asanas due to an injury.
‘Use kindness it makes the mind bright and clear like pure water’ How Yoga Works by Gesne Michael Roach
Applying the Yamas
We can also think of the Yamas as five observances for improving interpersonal relationships. When we incorporate these into our lives, we observe how our relationships with others improves, they feel more fulfilling.
For your next yoga class, bring Ahimsa to your mind. Practice with non violence, for yourself physically as you move through postures, and keep your mind free from violence by avoiding criticising or judging yourself.
After your practice, see how far you can take this concept of ahimsa into your day... Into your relationships and interactions with the people you meet... Yoga is so much more than a physical practice!
‘The world doesn’t really need more people who can bend their bodies into amazing positions. What it needs are kinder, more compassionate, generous people.’ Donna Farhi