I’m always thinking about whether there are any changes I can make in my life to improve some aspect of it, whether that be the health of me and my family, my relationships or my level of productivity. This is not meant to sound all holier-than-thou, because in reality it’s like having the stress of making and keeping New Year’s resolutions every day.Despite being a little intense, I find that making several adjustments throughout the year is actually a much more manageable practice than trying to make them all at once on January first.
Right now the thing that keeps popping into my mind is that I can, or maybe more accurately I should, pay more attention to integrating more yogic principles into my approach to everyday life.
As a yoga instructor I trained in a very physical type of yoga and can’t claim that the spiritual aspects of it factored in very much for me in the early years. But over time, and as I have continued to learn more about yoga, I’ve realized that the very many different aspects of yoga, besides just the physical practice, have become important guiding principles in my life. Probably more significantly, these lifestyle principles are guiding how my husband and I choose to raise our children.
The physical practice of yoga poses (Asanas) is just one arm of the Eight Fold Path of Yoga as laid out in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Yamas and Niyamas are two more “arms” of the Eight Fold Path and it’s many of the elements of these two parts of yoga that I think lend themselves to a holistically healthy yogic lifestyle.
Ahimsa, Satya and Astheya
The Yamas are described as “wise characteristics” which are supposedly our natural way of operating in relation to one another. Ahimsa, for example, is the Yama that says we should live in a non-harming way. Satya tells us to commit to truthfulness, and means that we should not steal. These are all indeed wise characteristics that I think most straight thinking people are committed to. Where I grew up, we were certainly raised to operate in a non-harming, truthful and honest way.
So what has happened to us as adults when, if you are like me, you can look around amongst your peers and notice that everyone is definitely no longer committed to these observances. But hey, not judging is also a yogic approach to life which I am very committed to. As such, perhaps the best advice each of us can take is to recommit to observing the principles of not causing harming, not taking what is not rightfully ours (or taking that which we have not genuinely earned), being truthful, and not judging ourselves or others.
Aparigraha is the Yama that implies letting go of your attachment to “things” and accepting that the only sure thing in life is that things change. This is where I feel my yoga practice has begun to evolve beyond the physical side. Truth be told (see, I’m putting Satya into action already), this is perhaps more out of necessity rather than having necessarily become more enlightened as a yogi. I was unhappy, unfulfilled, undervalued and underpaid in my previous job for ages, years even. I sucked it up to earn a salary, believing that I needed to earn a certain amount of money in order to maintain the lifestyle I desired. In part, that of course included acquiring things that brought pleasure to me or my family in some form or fashion.
I’m reaching a stage where I am better able to let go of that desire to earn money just for the purpose of acquiring stuff. Stuff that, although I wanted it at the time, I didn’t really need. Note that I said “reaching a stage” there and not “I have reached,” because frankly it is/I am still a work in progress.
As parents, my husband and I have a certain level of intrinsic responsibilities as we keep the little people fed, watered, sheltered, safe, educated, healthy, happy and so on. We can’t just decide to live simply if it risks jeopardizing their health, education, safety etc. So even as we commit to Aparigraha and settle in to a quieter, simplified lifestyle, I know that we will face challenges as we work to identify our needs (like holiday camps for the kids so Mama doesn’t go completely insane every time school is out, for example) from our wants (“new stock just in” at Mom’s favorite boutique as my helpful Facebook newsfeed just advised me, for example). We also must always remember to strike a balance between them.
Niyamas are guidelines for how we should treat ourselves. Santosha, or contentment, is about being happy with what we have rather than unhappy about what we do not have. I see these as related to letting go of our attachment to things (Aparigraha), and it is certainly what I am working on now with a more simplified/ financially constrained lifestyle.
The Niyama of Tapas is about maintaining good health, eating healthy food, exercising and breathing, so that we can each energetically engage in an optimal life. I see this as an important component of a holistic yoga lifestyle which embraces a physical practice, healthy eating and a few other yogic observances, all with a view to seeking contentment (Santosha).
Of course this is far from an exhaustive list and there are plenty more elements to a truly yogic existence, but I don’t believe it’s an all or nothing arrangement. I’m excited at the prospect of encouraging these yogic observances in my life, and I’ll certainly be leaning on my yoga practice and yogic principles to try and bolster me through 2014; hopefully more content, hopefully happier for me, the kids and everyone.
Which of the yogic observances discussed here do you already practice, and which can you employ from today?
Not causing harming Not taking what is not rightfully yours, or that you have not genuinely earned Being truthful Not judging yourselves or others Letting go of material attachments and accepting the constant dynamic motion of life Acknowledge the valuable positives in your life Take care of your physical and mental health.