It is not easy looking inside. As a matter of fact, it’s really a deflating and embarrassing feeling. The practice of svadhyaya is another one of the niyamas that I am learning about as I continue this adventure of yoga teacher training.
Svadhyaya is the process of being aware of your actions as they are happening as well as reflecting on your actions during the course of the day. Have you had times when you’ve had an immediate awareness that what you’re doing is something that you shouldn’t be, (gossip, not being truthful), and your brain clicks in that this is wrong, but then your body has to think about how to react. Do you stop gossiping or lying? How do you change the conversation you’re having? Is the person you’re with going to think your weird if you stop and fess up how you’re really not wanting to continue this conversation of gossip? It’s just so much “easier” to continue and tell yourself you won’t do this again. Right.
When I stop and think about my actions, two things happen: either I get embarrassed or proud. And then I struggle with feeling shameful, or conversely, wonder if my sense of pride is really my ego getting the best of me. I am a much different person than I used to be, and while I was never a mass-murderer, I wasn’t very kind. I yelled and screamed a lot, I took advantage of people for the sake of “business,” I lied, I coveted just about everything that everyone else had, and last but definitely not least, I didn’t love my neighbor as myself. Now, my actions in these areas are quite different as I have really allowed myself to open up and love people….really love them. I am more careful with my words, I am very content with what I have, and I have stood on my ethical soapbox to the point where I have lost a job because of it. I am proud of these changes, yet is that pride a contributor to ego? How can I be proud without being egotistical? Awareness.
And my actions that aren’t so stellar? In what areas of my life now can I afford to be more aware of my actions as they happen? The first thing that I think of is my mouth, especially when on the phone and not being face to face with someone. I seem to lose my moral compass when I am on the phone and I easily slip back into negative talk about others. I swear, (oh my, do I swear!). I get agitated, angry, and vindictive., (and I enjoy doing so until I hang up and think about it). I had coffee with an awesome man last week, and we talked of morals and values in relation to our work. He shared with me that over the last 7 years in his job, he has chosen to get up ever morning and ask for one simple thing in prayer, “help,” and has chosen to watch his words and align them with his values. Man, this is so hard! For me, there is also an element of peer pressure to this that I get uncomfortable with. How do you stand up for your values and say what is right when with others around you are being negative and saucy? It’s so much easier to just jump on the bashing-bandwagon and pile on the negativity and criticism instead of stopping and backing, or better yet, pointing out the actions of the group verbally. Awareness.
Another area of my life that I need to be more aware of is my thoughts. I have a very imaginative brain, and I can head off in a daydream state and blow the littlest element so far out of proportion that I soon become physically agitated and start to sweat. It’s truly so dumb! I’ve often wondered what the trick is to keeping my mind aligned throughout the day on goodness and truth because there has to be a trick to this…it’s just soooooooo hard! Awareness.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. I also know that I am not perfect. I will have thoughts and actions that aren’t in line with my belief of right and wrong, but I do know that the more I become aware of what I am doing and what I am thinking, the more I can change my behaviors. A few years ago, it dawned on me that if I ask in prayer at the start of each day to be His hands and feet, and I intentionally behave in that manner, I should become the person I want to me. In reflecting on svadhyaya today, I guess this really holds true. If I ask the Lord to be His hands and feet every morning, (perhaps I should add “His mouth,” as well), and I mirror my actions to match this, I should be able to put my head on the pillow each night knowing I haven’t hurt anyone and I have made the world a better place.
The 3rd Niyama I am reflecting upon in my own life is that of tapas, or self-discipline. The word “tapas” translate as “heat” and regardless of what I originally thought, it does NOT refer to whether or not my body prefers cold weather or hot. What it rather refers to is the internal discomfort that comes when breaking a non-worthy habit, (either behavioral or thought) in order to allow positive change to come about. Think about this for a minute…when was a time you tried to break a habit, like being a couch potato, or reducing the amount of caffeine that you consumed. Remember how it physically felt? I sure do! I remember when I first started to exercise and my body was so incredible sore, and the more I pushed my development, the more I hurt. Heck, beginning a consistent yoga practice last spring brought about incredible tapas not only in my body, but in my mind as well, and it was happening naturally!
I didn’t begin a yoga practice for my thought patterns-it was a strictly physical endeavor. Yet almost immediately, my thoughts began to change and I wrestled with all of the new light that was being brought into my being. Talk about internal discomfort! My old, perfectly fine ways of thinking, (or so I thought), were leaving me for better, bigger, more profound thoughts, and providing a great deal of questioning and reflection internally. This was, and still isn’t easy! The things I am learning and the awakening that is happening in my spirit is oddly fearful. It’s freeing, yet at the same time, being I cannot control it, I worry about where all this new love and mindfulness will lead. Loving is very vulnerable, and when you grow up learning only guarded love, this new unconditional love for not only for your family and friends but the world around you as well, is a bit like being naked.
Overall, I believe I practice tapas pretty well, but would really like to practice on a deeper level-it gets very easy for me to succumb to the desires of my surroundings in certain situations. For instance, I am a 100% full believer in eating a plant-based diet, yet when everyone around me has a bit of ice cream, I succumb even while knowing the living conditions of cows in many factory dairy farms. When it comes to exercising after work, many nights it’s easier to just admit to being too tired and lethargic from the day instead of doing what I should by lacing up the running shoes or going to my yoga mat.
I would like to be rock-solid in my actions of self-discipline instead of being full-on at times and lax at others. You know…that describes me pretty well; when I get something in my noggin, I go 100 mph, but then I start running out of gas. I get gas, find something new, go 100 mph, run out of gas, and the process repeats itself. My desire and goal should be to find a consistent practice of self-discipline to act in mindful moderation instead of living on a personal roller coaster. I think I need to lift this new revelation up in prayer and ask God for a bit of help here. After all, there’s nothing I can accomplish without Him!
As I start today’s post, all I can say is that I am SO glad I am not writing this post 10 years ago because if I had been, I would have lied throughout the whole thing because content was something that I knew of only by definition and not by practice.
Contentment, or santosha in Sanskrit, means that you are being present in your day to day and minute by minute life, which as we all know, whizzes by so fast that sometimes, we shut out the lights at night and have no idea what we have done. Santosha also means that we are happy and comfortable with where we are in life and that we not only appreciate the people and possessions in life, but more importantly, we appreciate who we are and where we are at as people. Are we thankful or are we looking for more-the bigger and better home, better car, better job? Can we look at ourselves in the mirror and see a reflection of beauty, goodness, and happiness?
Me? Do I practice a life of santosha or am I still beating myself up and looking for more? What do I see when I look in the mirror? Am I truly happy? When I am tempted to be harsh and judgmental toward myself, how can I shift that? What are some reminders I can create to help me stay grounded in the present moment?
Never before at any time in my life, have I been more happy, more grounded, more in love, more beautiful that I am right now at this very moment. I have the most amazing marriage, the most wonderful children, the truest and most solid friends, and when I look in the mirror, what looks back is a beautiful, mature woman who is strong, who loves her wrinkles and sags, and who loves life. I am happy. Truly happy. Now life is not perfect and there are struggles, but I know that God is in complete control of my life and being I believe in Him completely. I know that He has me sitting safely in the palm of His hands and will never let me fall. He will provide, and He will bless. I have no need to worry, only the need to praise and glorify His name in all that I do and all that I say. How could life get any better than that?
There was once a point in my life, where I always wanted bigger and better-more and more-and no matter how much I accumulated, it was never enough. My home was never good enough and neither were my possessions, friends or family. Isn’t that sad!? But today, I love my home, and it’s the same one I’ve had for 16 years. It’s funny what a different outlook can make! My possessions aren’t anything more than “things,” and my friends and family? Well let’s just say that as I have quit trying to fill my void with crap, my family life couldn’t be better and I have been blessed to strengthen old friendships and have met some of the best new friends that I could ever imagine. And the funny thing is that nothing has changed in my immediate surroundings but rather in my mind! I am content and peaceful. I am blessed, and I am so thankful that God has chosen me to be one of His. It is when this really sunk into my thick head did I let the pulls of this world go and look at what I had with gratitude and contentment.
So even if I slip and my daily practice of santosha eludes me for a brief period, my foundation is there and I am able to be present enough in mind to draw on that strength to get through the struggle and not let the world’s images and ways pull me down into its ever-spinning downward spiral.
I wrote the other day about the 5 yamas, or restraints, which apply specifically to how one behaves outwardly toward other beings, and because of that post, I really found myself since then intentionally thinking about everything I said, did, or thought in relation to those 5 yamas. What a wonderful revelation! As soon as I began to think negatively about someone, I remembered that I shouldn’t have violent thoughts about anyone or anything. As I opened the mail and happily saw the 25% Coach coupon, I remembered that the last thing I need is another handbag-(a combination of Brahmacharya & Aparigraha).
I’m far from knowing a great deal about yoga philosophy, but since this summer, I have been reading quote a bit, and while I knew about the yamas, never did the light bulb come on like it did after writing it down yesterday! There is something about my brain that needs to learn by reading followed by re-writing in order for it to really sink in.
So in the spirit of personal growth, I’m going to write about the next path of Pantanjali’s eight limbs, Niyama. There are five niyamas, or observances, that apply specifically to how one conducts themselves on a more intimate level in relation to their own behavior as well life regimens. Slightly differently from my last post, I’m going to write on one niyama at a time so I can really focus to think deeply about these personally related traits and how I am observing, or not observing them.
The first niyama is called saucha which translates as purity or cleanliness in reference to our behavior toward the outside world as well as the behavior we take toward our own bodies and health relating to what we consume and how we care for ourselves. I’m feeling confident in my lifestyle choices that saucha is an observance I regard highly; I am clean and really don’t stink up the yoga studio or gym too badly, I shower more than the normal human being, and my home is clean. In relation to my internal practice of saucha, I eat a vegetarian diet, (vegan, to even take it to a higher level), and I practice cleaning my body and detoxifying it through practicing yoga, walking my pooches religiously, running, and biking. Yep, I rock the saucha niyama. Right?
Not so fast. What again about my thoughts? Are they pure? Are they clean thoughts that contribute to an overall healthy mind? Some are, but unfortunately many are not. As a matter of fact, I really struggle with pure and clean thoughts. I have always been a daydreamer with a lot of brain-chatter going on in my noggin, and my mind will take one small thought and internally blow it up into some huge, completely false un-truth or negative situation. Why is it so much easier for our minds to steer toward the negative and adverse versus the positive and optimistic side of life? For example, in the last couple of days, there has been a lot of conversation about a job I held at an unethical company a number of years ago. As discussions around this past life have resurfaced, (mind you, there has really been nothing bad said), my brain has run rampant with negative thoughts and daydreams about situations that never even happened! I have manifested complete un-pure and un-clean thoughts about the people I worked for and have mentally made up situations that never even happened. Consciously, I don’t even realize I’m doing this until the movie playing in my head has become so negative that it deters me from what I’m doing or until I’ve broken out into a sweat and yank myself back to reality.
So while I am externally clean, my mind needs a bit of anti-bacterial soap, and I’m not quite sure how to do this—how to stop the chatter and the path toward negative thoughts. But any step is step in the right direction, so I have chosen to work hard at being more conscious about where my mind and mouth travels so that when they start to travel toward the negative, I can stop the train and turn it around. Maybe one small step at a time will lead me to a healthy and pure mind in the future.
When I began practicing yoga consistently this past February, it was nothing more than a way for me to stretch out my body and to heal my Achilles Tendons so I could run longer and faster than before. Never would I have imagined that this “means-to-an-end workout” would lead me to reflect more internally on my connection to the world and my place within that world. Remember, I did tell you I was becoming nicer!
One of the recent classes in our teacher training program has been on Pantanjali’s Eight-Limbed Path of yoga which is a step by step path to living a conscious life. How many of us can say that we go through our days truly living consciously? I know I don’t, and I want to change that. The first of the eight limbs is Yama, (rules of social behavior so we won’t have a harmful impact upon the world nor get tangled up in wrong relationships or posessions), and the second limb is that of Niyama, (rules of personal behavior). These two sets of principles go together and provide an ethical foundation for right living.
How does this pertain to me? After all, as I fly through my days, I think I’m doing pretty well and being a pretty good steward to the world around me. Upon closer examination, I can say that I am doing better than before in living a conscious life, but truly, there are quite a few excuses I seem to be making to keep me nice and safe living in the ways of the world and not that of God.
There are Five Yamas and 5 Niyamas in Pantanjali’s path. As I look to the five Yamas for this journaling exercise, and if I am truly honest with my self-assessment, there are some things I really need to work on.
Ashimsa, (non-violence), is the first Yama. I don’t eat meat, so I’m nonviolent. Right? I’m not mean to people, so I’m nonviolent. Right? But what about my words? What about the negative self-talk that I use when referring to fact that I should be perfect? What about the hurt I cause when I roll my eyes at my husband or kids? Or how about when I think vindictive thoughts about someone I am angry with? As I think about violence in this atypical way, I see that there is actually a deep reservoir of violence that resides in my heart that I want to change. What could this world look like without violence of a physical, emotional, and internal nature? Can you even imagine?
Satya, (truthfulness), is the 2nd restraint of the Yamas, and ouch, this one hurts to self-reflect on as my days are filled with non-satya just over little tiny things that really add up. And then there’s the point of how I am truthful. When I am truthful in telling my husband that he should change clothes because his are wrinkled and have pet fur on them, how was I truthful? Was I truthful in a non-violent way or did I create hurt? There is such a fine line for me here and I’m struggling with this element of truthfulness in all situations when it could cause discord to others.
Asteya, (non-stealing) is the third restraint. How many times have I taken that pen or stack of post-it notes out of the supply closet. How about when cramming 10 pounds of crap into a 5 pound bag and I’m late to a meeting? Am I not stealing time from the person I was to see? When I share my bad moods with others, am I not stealing from their joyous day? This list could go on and on for me and there’s no need to continue, only a need to be conscious and fully aware of the times where I am stealing something from someone, including myself.
Brahmacharya, (sensual moderation). This Yama is about moderation of those things we find enticing to us, and for me, there are just too many to mention. I easily get obsessed and I want my Oompa Loompa NOW! I want that handbag, (and yes, it’s a Louis Vuitton as you probably guessed), NOW! I want to eat and eat in excess for I LOVE, (and I mean LOVE) food. Put a good beer in front of me and any sense of moderation is gone because I love the taste of beer! Being a woman who struggled for 17 years with bulimia, I would dare say that my Brahmacharya needs a bit of work. I am definitely not moderate—I am a bull in the china shop and when something strikes me, I do it to an obsessive rate. I push and push to such an extreme that I become a burned out mess who needs recovery time just to get back on track with life, and this isn’t healthy. It’s so easy in our material and highly-marketed world to be wanting everything we see because it’s going to make us happy, (or so we think). For me, again being conscious of the underlying reasons that are making me act compulsively is going to be key for dealing with the times where moderation is a big, bad 4-letter word.
Aparigaha, (non-grasping, non-clinging, non-hording). R-I-G-H-T….. I am a clinger. I like safety. I like my possessions; after all, I’ve worked hard for them. Right? I am attached. I am attached to my home and in particular, my new leather couch. I am attached to money, or perhaps the fear of not having money which petrifies me. I ask myself what is want and what is need, and are the wants “things” that I am attached to? I think about Acts 2 : 42-47 and the people that devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and how they sold off everything they owned and lived a beautiful life in harmony with those around them. Also, Matthew 6 : 25-27 comes to mind when Jesus tells us not to worry about any aspect of our life because our Heavenly Father knows what we need and will provide. I really need to learn to let go!
I wonder how I would have answered these questions 5-10 years ago when my life was a chaotic mess of chasing the proverbial “dream” at any and all expense. There was a carrot dangled in the form of a paycheck, that once deposited, would solve all of my problems and life would change. Guess what? The paycheck came and life changed….for the worse, and it was the biggest and best blessing of my life! I am thankful that I’m not reflecting on this 10 years ago but am rather doing so now where I can pull on those past mistakes that have worked out for the best, and can put those tools learned to use now in continuing to life a life of devotion and love.
Day #3 of Yoga Teacher Training at CorePower Yoga Maple Grove, flew by like a flash of light! I LOVE breaking down the poses into the way they are supposed to be done, and after doing so, I realized just how big of a difference little tweaks, (not tweaks, ha!), to a posture can really make. Since we started learning some of these small nuances on Saturday, I have been trying very hard to practice the postures correctly, and I must be doing them right because I feel soreness in muscles that shouldn’t be sore. My shoulders and hamstrings feel wonderfully different, and my abdominals…well, let’s just say that a correct core lock, (Uddiyana Bandha), can make a huge difference not only in the glorious soreness in the abdominal area the next day, but also in the way your entire body feels. I have such a weak, weak core, and engaging and actually using my abdominals during my practice makes all of the postures feel a bit different from the way I had been doing them.
After training, I took a little break to hit up the used bookstore trying to find some inexpensive treasures, and then returned to the studio for my first attempt at a guided meditation. My naughty-mind tried to talk me out of doing this class by chattering that I should just go home and go to bed being I was still sick, but my good-mind prevailed and I stayed. A bit nervous at first, I decided to let go of my perceptions and sink into the class. Boy, am I ever glad I shut my little naughty-brain off! What a beautiful class that I nearly missed out on! The teacher was beautiful! Her voice, her meditation, her guidance, and her calmness were truly spectacular and she made me feel safe and secure in this oddly quiet environment. We meditated for 35 minutes, then slowly brought our bodies back to the present in another 35 minute session of gentle postures and movement with our eyes closed. Have you ever tried doing even the most basic postures with eyes closed? It was very unique, and at times I had to reach around my mat to make sure I hadn’t wandered off and was actually in the back corner of the room.
Not only did I survive guided meditation, I actually loved it which leads me to wonder what is happening to this high-stress, Type-A personality, constant brain-chatter girl? Whatever is happening to her and wherever she is going, I say let her go! I’m kinda liking this new, improved model!
As Chris and I went to sleep last night, we realized that it was time for our beloved cat, BeBe, to go to Rainbow Bridge. Her cancer had spread so much that she couldn’t even purr when scratched nor could she breathe without labor. Treats were no longer appealing and all she wanted was to sleep on my down pillow. So around 9:00 am this morning, Bebe met God, and as he held her and scratched her head and butt, she purred more voraciously than she ever had here on earth.
Godspeed, meow, meow. Godspeed.