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The Yamas – There Is More To Yoga Than Postures

There comes a point in everyones life when our brains are so full of thoughts, decisions and emotions that we come to a stop. Our joints dry up like the tin man in The Wizard of Oz and we slow down and stall.

I read a parable about two monks who were about to cross a river when they saw a woman who needed help to cross. One monk carried her and the other monk berated him after, “We are forbidden to touch women,” he said. “How could you do this?”

“I put the woman down on the other side of the river,” replied the other monk, “but you are still carrying her.”

I have carried thoughts and worries with me for a long time. I carried them like a great weight, my shoulders and back were constantly tense and I did not realize I could put it all to one side.

We pick up our problems and hold onto them for dear life like they are our precious possessions. So important are these problems that we carry them everywhere. We do not put them down.

After a time, I realized that three simple things would allow me to put down my burdens:

  1. Exercise
  2. Fresh air
  3. Meditation

For me, yoga is a door way to these paths, it is also a catalyst for consistency. Yoga is not just postures, it is not just meditation, these are important aspects of yoga but each is only one of eight parts.

The Eight Limb path of Yoga is laid out as follows:

  1. Yamas – Moral restraints
  2. Niyamas – Observances
  3. Asana – Postures
  4. Pranayama – Mindful Breathing
  5. Pratyahara – Turning Inward
  6. Dharana – Concentration
  7. Dhyana – Meditation
  8. Samadhi – Union with the object of meditation

I instruct yoga once a week at the Rob Lee YMCA on Burrard Street, guiding people through the asana (postures). I do my best to emphasize the importance of breath, though I find it difficult to get that across but in light of the above, I teach only a small part of yoga in my classes.

Over the next week I plan to explore one of the eight limbs of yoga in more detail – The Yamas.

The Yamas, to me, are a moral guide to how we should make our way through life. They are just as much a part of yoga as the postures we practise in class. The yamas are as follows:

  1. Ahimsa – Non-harming
  2. Satya – Truthfulness
  3. Asteya – Nonstealing
  4. Brahmacarya – Moderation
  5. Aparigraha – Nonhoarding

We can all practise an aspect of yoga without ever stepping on a mat.

Ahimsa

We can inflict violence on ourselves and others in many different ways. Physical violence plagues our planet, sometimes it may be hidden behind closed doors other times it is out in the open rearing its ugly head for all to see.

There is the violence of rage, which can be silent and contemplative, seething like a sickness, or loud and boisterous like an angry thunderstorm.

The violence of thoughts, when the anger rises in our minds and we think of lashing out.

It can be as simple as an unkind word or thoughts which, when we allow them will light a spark that can burn into an anger that sits with us, hidden in the background.

I have said before that a successful day starts the night before. My Sunday night consisted of staying up late working on the iPad. I found it hard to sleep after the screen time, the blue light firing my braincells up like a Christmas tree, my thoughts going back and forth like Forest Gump whacking a ping pong ball.

The result was that I stayed in bed later the next morning. It’s funny how much of a knock on effect that has. Instead of my regular 20 minute meditation session I gave it 5 minutes.

I set out with the intention of nonviolence but was not set up to carry that through.

I often talk about finding our true selves. I also wonder if we can lose our true selves. As I drove to work I met a lady who hesitated at a fourway stop. She looked at me like I was an idiot and I reacted in anger. That is where we lose our true selves, it is not the real me. Just like the monks at the river, I put that person down a long time ago, but he comes back sometimes. If we were face to face neither of us would have reacted like that.

Two more times I got frustrated on the way to work. A strong person would have noticed the impulse to react, felt it and let it settle and become still like a ripple in water. The person who meditated for twenty minutes that morning would have let it go also.

Meditation (Dharana), just like the Yamas is another part of yoga. They are all interdependent. One leads into the other. Yoga is a way of life, not just a physical practise. That was obvious to me on my first day to examine the Yamas.

Satya

Tuesday brought me to Satya (truthfulness). It is a difficult one to put into action. It can be interpreted in different ways. This evening I was coming to the end of a difficult yoga practice when bridge or wheel pose was offered by the teacher.

Sometimes I will attempt wheel for two or three breaths when my body is warmed up and I decided for my third round I would go for it. The offer from the teacher was either pose.

It was then I realized that I was doing this pose for my ego rather than because it was what my body needed. This was the truth of my yoga practise. I came to the matt open to honesty and ready to practise truthfully.

Satya refers to truth both in thought and action. It can be found in many places in our lives, we just need to open our eyes to it.

There are many forms of dishonesty but dishonesty with ones self is the most difficult to escape. It is invisible and sneaks into our lives like a dark ghost in the night. Only with constant practise and mindfulness of Satya can we ward off this spectre.

Asteya

Asteya (non stealing) can take many forms aside from the obvious, for example, when we do not give our full effort to those who have paid for our services, we retain some of the attention and effort which has been promised to others.

This is human nature, I take out my phone in work and see a notification which is more interesting than what I am working on and my fish mind takes the bait. We fly to the shiny object like a moth to a candle.

How many times through out the day is our time or attention stolen by those who it is not intended for. My attention is intended for those who have put their hard earned cash into paying for it, or for those who I love and who deserve my attention and those who are kind and have earned my respect through friendship or courtesy.

The mindless attention leaches on social media and plastered over unsightly billboards do not deserve our attention, yet they latch onto us and drag us down into the depths of cat videos or online shopping and literally steal hours a week from us.

Non stealing can be looked at either directly or indirectly but either way the most precious things we have, our time and attention can be stolen from us or else not directed towards those who deserve it. Our most precious gifts should be held tight to our chests and given to those who matter most or those to whom we owe a debt.

Brahmacarya

This means moderation. I am vegetarian but I am also a realist. The world will never turn vegetarian or vegan though, this change would have a huge impact on climate change and eliminate unethical treatment of animals.

Eating meat is natural in the animal kingdom but over consumption is not. We eat so much beef that cows farts are literally choking the planet to death.

Whether vegetarian or carnivorous, we all have a responsibility to the home we will pass onto our children. Eating ethically sourced meat mindfully, in moderation will have an impact on this planet of a magnitude many of us do not realize.

Brahmacarya can save us, for we have nowhere else to go.

Brahmacarya can also apply on the mat in relation to the extent of the physical practise. We are always encouraged to push our selves. According to David Goggins, when we think we are spent, we have only reached the 40% mark.

This is true, but we must keep in mind humility and moderation. Taking your body straight to handstand without the experience and practise is not pushing yourself to your limits, it is pushing yourself to certain injury. It will serve your ego rather than your development.

Aparigraha

Non-hoarding. We often, by our nature, accumulate items. We fill our lives with stuff which takes up space both in our homes and in our minds. There is nothing more freeing than letting go of items we don’t need.

A cluttered space is a cluttered mind. The things you own start to own you. More space and more things require more time and maintenance. In my opinion we should only spend our time on those things we really love. If we free ourselves from those things that do not add to our lives we liberate our minds.

Just like the monks who crossed the river, we are guilty of mental hoarding. We hold onto emotions even when the moment has long past and they do not serve us. Often times I find my mind wander back to some perceived wrong which I still carry like the monks at the river. I hoard it.

In conclusion I encourage you, if you are a yoga practitioner, to go deeper and explore how we can take the entire practise, not just the the postures and breath work, off the matt into our everyday lives. Practise yoga every day, not necessarily twisted like a pretzel or meditating on a mountain top, but by being aware of the eight limbs of yoga and putting them into practise as much as possible.

There is much to offer, dig deep and you will find it.

If you liked the blog you would pay me a huge compliment by sharing it.

Thanks for reading,

Peace.

George

Having Less: Why & How It Has Changed Us

The decision to live our lives with less gradually occurred over years. Realising that buying things only lead to buying more got exhausting, expensive and stressful. The constant need to keep up with friends & family, comparing what we had with others would make anyone feel inadequate.

Constantly going around the same loop of needing-wanting-getting-feeling bad, I came to a realisation that buying things was not making me happy but creating stress, worry, sadness and loneliness. I hate shopping malls and really didn’t like spending time in them. So why was I going there to buy stuff, it didn’t make sense.

Wakening up to the fact that buying things did not make me happy or having lots of clutter in our home did not make me happy. I decided to make a change. This decision came about from certain events but I think the one real eye opener was being around people who had so much money and things. Soon I realised they were no happier than we were. In fact, all their stuff caused them so much stress. People were even hired to take care of their stuff; houses, cars, animals, bags, jewelry. Stuff needs taking care of, maintenance, up keep, constant surveillance. Owing more than one home creates so much stress, especially when they are not lived in all the time leaks, electrical issues, surveillance, security alarms, all of these extra stresses which start to control the lives of the people.

I saw first-hand how people who seem to have it all, were controlled by it all. Spending months working on their houses, renovating, painting, adding on thinking it would all end in a few months but then the upkeep of the homes began to take over weekends. The time spent having to clean the house, do jobs around the house, or paying people to do all that just didn’t appeal to me.

Living in a rented 1-bedroom apartment might not seem like a lot to most people but what it is freedom. Freedom from upkeeping a massive house, freedom from huge mortgage bills, freedom from having to hire staff to clean, freedom to live more simply. Is this going to be reality for the rest of our lives, no, we want to live in our own small place on our own land someday but for now this is perfect.

Living in a small space doesn’t mean that we are living simply, you can over complicate life very easily with extreme shopping habits. This is what we wanted to change. We wanted to eradicate the need to want things, we wanted to sit and relax in our home and not want or need. Be happy with what we had because everything we had was chosen with care & love and thought.

We want to live in a home with less noise, more space and beauty. That meant going through every room, drawer, cupboard, box, shelf, basket and storage area to get rid of all the things that did not spark joy or happiness. Marie Kondo book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying” was the road map we used to help declutter our home. For me this process of getting rid of stuff is fun, I have no issue with giving unused, unwanted and no longer needed items away. In fact, when they find a great home it makes me feel so happy! We gave away and sold lots of stuff, no dumping required except we recycled a lot of bank statements, notes from courses we took, old notebooks and lots of other paper that was stored throughout the years. Now we just have 1 folder for our important paperwork and avoid bringing paperwork back to our home.

I like to look through each area of our place on a monthly basis to see if there are any other items we could donate or give away. We have come very close to a place now that we truly have just what we use & need.

I cannot explain how relaxing this is and how happy I am when I walk through our home door every evening after work and look around to a place where I want to relax, destress and be comfortable in. Not having a need to clean, improve or change anything. Its home. I swear I smile everything I come home, maybe because we worked so hard for it and spent a lot of time deciding how we want our place to look & feel. The constant need to buy is no longer there. We would rather spend time working on projects we want to complete, be out in nature & socializing with friends.

Having less is not easy in fact it is so much easier to have more, more stuff, more debt, more stress, more money, more drink, more credit cards, more cars, shoes……. it’s harder to limit, to say no and to realise that having more does not make you happy. Having been around people who have lots of money……. but still want more money & more stuff….it made me realise that the wanting never stops even when you become hugely successful.

Spending life taking care of your stuff is a horrid waste of time when you could be doing things that spark joy & happiness…don’t waste life accumulating things instead accumulate memoires, experiences, friends, love & relationships. Focus on what really matters, connection, community, health, wellbeing, friendships, family…. stuff will never make you happy…. It may make life easier sometimes but never happier.

Having less is the best decision we ever made. We Know having less is better for our environment, relationships, health and bank accounts. We choose having less clutter and more time to enjoy life. Yes, this lifestyle will not make sense to a lot of people but we are free to life exactly how we choose…. we choose less. Our possessions do not control our lives.

As always, we would love to hear your feedback and comments.

Have a great week,

Chat soon,

Theresa xx