This Wednesday marks three years since I started meditating daily. I celebrate today by writing about my yoga book club topic for this month from the Niyamas – Santosha.
This concept, contentment, has been an enjoyable one for me, especially considering the ways in which the messages we receive via so many channels are meant to induce longing within us. They convince us that we lack something outside of ourselves to be happy. The emotions we feel then drive us toward what brings us pleasure, and move us toward avoiding discomfort or boredom.
By staying centered and aware of what is going on within us, we can stay in a place of contentment rather than longing. We can be grateful for all the amazing gifts this life brings, and the plethora of blessings that have come our way. We can realize the freedom that most of us enjoy to choose the responses we want to bring to our circumstances.
I am starting to understand that life is about 50/50 – about half positive emotions and half negative. Without some of each, we would never know true joy, and we would never be able to empathize with the pain we all experience as humans.
When we come to accept this reality, and to feel content without constantly seeking, we experience what Swami Rama noted, that “contentment is falling in love with your life.” Nothing is missing in this moment. Life is complete as it is right now.
Are there places in your life where it is hard to be grateful? What if you could embrace all of the changing dynamics in your life, and dance with them? What if you could see them as temporary, as ever-changing, and just a part of the greater flow?
Asteya, the third of the Yamas of yoga is about living with integrity and reciprocity in our lives. It is about noticing the abundance of each moment, so we have no need to “steal” from it by obsessing about the past or worrying about the future.
In the same vein, asteya challenges us to work for what we want by building our competence. The Sanskrit word adikara refers to the right to know or the right to have. The concept is about exercising our intention and our practices in order to align those goals and desires responsibly. Our adikara helps maintain the “container” for what we receive in our lives.
When we are on a path that honors our greater sense of purpose in the world, we have no need to envy other’s accomplishments. We can feel joy on their behalf, as we acknowledge universal possibilities for success. We can feel curious about others and excited to connect and learn from them.
Practicing asteya can help us understand how to lift others up without putting ourselves down. Of course, it is always important to keep the first two yamas of ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truthfulness) as a foundation to this practice.
At times we steal from our own energy when we feel compelled to work beyond our needs for rest, for example. We then risk working beyond healthy boundaries, and not honoring our truth in needing replenishment. This can arise from a scarcity mindset.
When we live in our own abundance, we notice just how many beautiful gifts surround us. Whether they are parks, libraries, forests, lakes or rivers, these gifts represent grace that we do not earn. We can contemplate how to live in reciprocity with this beautiful earth that we will steward for our collective future.
And on to design some practices to embody this concept. Did I mention how much I love teaching? 🙂
I really enjoyed teaching week 1 of my class last Thursday. Five wonderful students joined me and were able to help me practice my cue-ing and my teaching. I’m so grateful for that.
This week we will focus on satya or truthfulness, the second of the yamas of yoga. I have in mind some physical practices to allow students to experience their true range of motion. In soma yoga, we are taught to start with the center. So this means we start with a stable pelvis and build the poses from the central axis or spine, and then radiate outward.
Too many students (myself included) have had the unfortunate experience of getting “pushed” by a yoga class to go too far. We go beyond our true range of motion (ROM), and may find ourselves injured. Our body instinctively protects itself. Our range of motion may even decrease over time because our body knows the truth (even if our mind wants to make the image of the yoga teacher standing in front).
Life is like this too. Our bodies sense and know truth often before our minds’ start to manufacture stories and explanations. When we get quiet, and listen internally, we can detect truths emerging from within.
However, truths are not always comfortable or convenient. Sometimes a deep yearning for growth can mean that we must leave certain people behind in our lives. As humans we are biologically wired to seeking belonging, as it was part of our early survival. At the same time, our brains are wired for growth and change as adaptation is necessary.
Thus there can be some tension here, in terms of the actions we must take in our lives. We want the comfort of belonging. We also know that by not risking some discomfort, we are in danger of stagnating.
There was a time when I identified strongly as being a runner. It served me well. I got to “run out” the craziness of my mind when I felt stressed by work or life. I met my husband (9 years ago) and a wonderful community of running friends, many who are still close. I still run and enjoy the occasional race, but do not feel compelled to build up my mileage each week.
Yoga beckoned much more strongly as I sought to integrate my body and mind, rather than simply escape the busyness of my mind. Running can still feel like a cleansing process for me. And at the same time, yoga helps me direct and focus that energy in a mindful way.
So the truth is not an either/or proposition, but in this case a both/and situation. Getting current with ourselves and knowing what we need in our lives is part of satya. Tuning in regularly to ask ourselves what we most need is a practice which serves us in the long run. At times our bodies crave motion, dance, action. Other times they crave rest, pausing and turning inward.
Being able to embrace satya in each moment leads to freedom. If you feel internal resistance you might ask:
What truths am I avoiding? Is there anything I may not want to see about my situation?
And of course, applying ahimsa, some self-compassion will go a long way here in allowing those truths to emerge.
This week I will start teaching my 5-week class on Thursday mornings. I have a good number of sign ups, and a couple of yoga teaching friends that may drop by, and I am excited to start.
Since I am preparing for that, I will be writing a weekly series on Wednesdays in October focusing on the 5 Yamas, Sanskrit for “restraints” which are part of the gems of wisdom making up yogic philosophy. These are: nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, nonexcess and nonpossessiveness.
The first week we start with Ahimsa, or nonviolence, literally to “do no harm.” This is so fundamental to the practice of yoga. Yet it is not always respected in our desire to “get things right” or to imitate our teachers.
We do violence to ourselves when we strive for perfection rather than balance, when we overdo rather than just do. The hardest part for me in this lesson was realizing how hard I was being on myself. My inner critic became apparent when I started listening to the thoughts in my mind more often.
Learning to bring some compassion to those “sub-personalities” that were driving some of my behavior, I have embraced a new pattern of nonviolence by becoming curious about that critical voice. Rather than believing it, I realize it often comes from that protective part of ourselves that is driven by fear and by the conditioning of our families of origin, and society as a whole.
By directing our attention to the breath and the body, getting “out of our heads” for a moment, we can step back from that inner dialogue. The mind’s stories create a cacophony of noise that is not the REAL self. Developing compassion for that inner voice, rather than criticizing ourselves for having it, allows us to move forward with greater ease.
This is in line with Kristen Neff’s work on Self-Compassion which I explored in an earlier post. There is a way in which treating ourselves with kindness flows out to our relationships with others as well. As Deb Adele’s book on The Yamas and Niyamas points out: “If you are a taskmaster with yourself, others will feel your whip.”
What I have noticed in practicing self-compassion with my flaws and short-comings is that I have so much more compassion for others as well. In this way, ahimsa becomes a powerful foundation for living well.
May you, my lovely reader, practice ahimsa by noticing where you are not being as kind to yourself or others as you could be. In what ways can you more easily accept yourself as you are without judgment or criticism?
For my blog readers who live in the Twin Cities area, here’s an opportunity to get 50% off early-bird registration for my first actual yoga class that is open to the public. It is part of my certification requirement to teach a 5-hour series over a period of time so I can watch an average of 6 “bodies” make progress over time.
I set up my registration info right after I finished my last yoga weekend. All of my YTT-200 teachers will have access to the discount as well, as I truly would love feedback on my teaching. I will need a consistent group so I am pricing this series as a package.
I humbly appreciate it if you spread the word to anyone you know who could benefit from such an opportunity. The sign-up link is here. Use the coupon code TULA50 to get half off the registration by September 15th.
If you cannot commit just yet, there is another coupon code listed in the brochure for signing up by the 25th of this month. Most of the fee goes to overhead for the lovely space and rental of regular yoga props gratefully furnished by Tula Yoga & Wellness.
Thank you for helping me become a better teacher through this experience!