“As soon as you can give it all up, you can have it all.” - Ram Dass
Today, I'll introduce the concept of aparigraha, otherwise know as non-grasping or non-attachment. This is one of the more well-known tenets of yoga philosophy, and an entire book could be devoted to this alone. However, this entry will be a short and sweet primer on non-attachment.
The quote above conveys the paradox and reward of non-attachment. It's funny but when I look back at many of the successes of my life, they came to me after I had let go or surrendered of any particular outcome of my efforts.
Often, though, before the release, we find ourselves tense, either clenching our jaws, stomachs, shoulders, or other body parts (recall the phrase anal retentive). One way to move that tension out of the body is to physically move your body in coordination with your breath. Below is a simple sequence to help dispel that grasping tension:
1. Come to child's pose: kneel on the floor and then fold forward, draping your torso over your thighs and bringing your forehead to the floor. Stretch your arms above your head, palms pressing into the ground.
2. Inhale up to a table-top position on your knees and hands.
3. Exhale back down to your child's pose.
4. Repeat 3 or more times, resting in child's pose when you have finished.
5. While in final child's pose, turn your palms up so they now face the ceiling. Stay here for 6 full breaths, focusing on the exhale.
As always, let me know if this sequence helped you out or if you have your own routines for releasing stress.
I planned on finishing up the yama series today but I've had one of those days, actually - make that weeks, where everything seems to go wrong and all I want to do is scream 'serenity now!', which probably defeats the purpose of the phrase in the first place.
Instead, I will write about the concept of Ishvarapranidhana, another concept on the 8-limbed path of yoga that refers to the practice of surrender.
Ishvara refers to something higher or outside of oneself. Pranidhana translates from the Sanskrit as 'attention to', 'love for', or 'surrender to'. Put it all together and you get 'surrender to something outside yourself'.
This is one of my favorite concepts in my yoga practice. While it's not a magic pill that makes my frustrations or suffering go away, it does soften the blow that life occasionally hands us. And, eventually, after I've calmed down enough and gained some distance and perspective, I return to this practice of surrender and find that it's a gift. It's a gift that I'm able to practice giving up control. It's a gift to let myself feel supported through life, knowing that things have a way of working out.
However, this is not an endorsement of passivity. To get where we want in life, we must try to do our best; we must do the work. And, once we've done all that we can, we must also surrender, for the results are out of our control and trying to force an outcome usually has unintended negative consequences, the least of those being unnecessary stress.
I will leave you with a simple exercise that you can do anywhere and will leave you feeling a bit more free from your burdens.
1. Take 3 slow and mindful breaths (inhale+exhale = 1). You can even do this if you're in public or at a meeting. No need to exaggerate your breath or make it audible.
2. On your fourth inhale, imagine that you are breathing in space (if you're feeling stressed or anxious chances are your chest, lungs, and heart are feeling tight).
3. On the exhale, feel yourself physically release that tension and think 'I'm releasing that which no longer serves me', or something along those lines.
4. Repeat as many times as needed.
While you may still want to scream 'Serenity Now', this little practice can take the edge off in moments when you feel like you are going to burst.
Please let me know if you have any tips that you use to get through stressful days, or, if you tried this little exercise out.
Welcome back! Today I'm going to talk about the first limb of yoga, the yamas. Since there are 5 of them, I am going to break this topic in two posts. Part I will discuss the first 3 and Part II will discuss the remaining 2.
Yama is Sanskrit for 'restraint' and refers to the 'don't' rules of living. In fact, the yamas taken together with the niyamas, which will be discussed in a future post, are akin to the ten biblical commandments. Most major religions and philosophies provide some sort of roadmap for daily life and, in that respect, yoga is no different. However, it is important to remember that yoga is not a religion but a plan to help us live fully and authentically.
The yamas constitute the 'great vow' in yoga in that they should be practiced moment to moment, on and off the mat. They also help to refine the mind though self-control and awareness.
1. Ahimsa - to not injure, or more commonly, nonviolence.
This is perhaps the most well known tenet of yoga and extends beyond avoidance of physical harm to include thoughts, words, and deeds. The basic premise is that by harming any other living being, you are ultimately doing the same to yourself because of the interconnectedness of all things in the universe. Likewise, it is counterproductive to harm yourself either through physical harm, negative and hurtful thoughts, unsafe situations, or other forms of self sabotage.
2. Satya - loosely translated from Sanskrit as 'unchangeable', but more commonly known as truth.
I would be hard pressed to find any spiritual practice that would not include truth as a necessary discipline. But truth in yoga, as I understand it through my own practice and studies, is closely related to authenticity and true-to-yourself living (of course, all the while observing ahimsa). As your practice evolves, your internal line of questioning will lead you to perpetually ask yourself what it means to be you, as a unique individual in the world. What is your absolute truth? How does that relate to the larger absolute truth of all life?
3. Asteya - do not steal.
Again, we see another universal principle: simply, do not take what is not yours. Asteya also applies to feelings of jealousy and envy. In fact, another common interpretation is non-coveting. Coveting things, situations, and other people ultimately leaves us starving for what we cannot have. However, the blessing in experiencing these feelings is that it shows us what we desire in our own lives, prompting us to cultivate our own unique version of life.
With just these three yamas, there is already so much to reflect on and work towards. How do you incorporate ahimsa, satya, and asteya into your daily life?
It's a lot of food for thought to hold you over until the next post where I will write about brahmacharya (abstinence) and aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
First off, I'd like to say hi! It's been about 2 years since my last entry. I'm happy to say that I will be posting regularly from this week on, discussing all things yoga (read my brief explanation of yoga, here).
I'd like to open this series with an introduction to the guiding principles of yoga philosophy, which are built upon the 8 Limbs of Yoga and are detailed in Patanjali's foundational text, the Yoga Sutras. These 8 concepts provide a roadmap to live a balanced life. Each week, I will be discussing one of the limbs in detail, explaining its history, etymology, and, most importantly, its relevance in modern life and personal practice.
The 8 Limbs:
1. Yamas: 5 restraints one should practice. Think of them like 5 commonsense lessons you were taught as a kid: don't harm others, don't lie, don't steal, practice restraint in all things, and let go of expectations. These are all guidelines for relating to the external world around us.
2. Niyamas: The 5 internal observances one should practice. In other words, the niyamas are personal care standards: cleanliness, contentment, commitment to physical fitness/health, self-study and reflection, and surrender.
3. Asana: This is the what is generally referred to as 'yoga' in mainstream Western culture. The asanas are the physical poses and practices of yoga that are generally taught in a studio or gym setting but that can be done in most places, even in a chair!
4. Pranayama: Breathwork. At its most simple, this is the practice of being aware of your breath. Learning to control your breath is the most powerful tool in your practice and is especially useful for mood management in the modern world.
5. Prathyahara: Turning one's awareness fully inward to prepare the mind for meditation.
6. Dharana: External meditation practice where the focus is on an external object such as a flame, body part, or meditation object.
7. Dhyana: Deep focus and meditation on the nature or consciousness of the object and oneself, concurrently.
8. Samadhi: A complete fusion of oneself and the meditation object, the practitioner perceives no separateness between oneself and the object.
Dhyana and Samadhi are the deepest levels of meditation. It takes years of concentrated practice to achieve these states. Luckily, you do not have to reach these levels to reap the benefits of daily yoga and mediation practice. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of studies demonstrating the immediate and lasting effects of very simple and short yoga routines.
Ideally, a yoga session should incorporate all 8 limbs. Reading this, it seems that an ideal session will last for hours but many of these principles are met concurrently. For example, brushing your teeth in the morning before your day begins is a great time to turn your focus inward and meditate on the act of cleaning and self care. Already, you will have practiced a few niyamas. And, once you have been practicing yoga, even for a short while, your yoga 'sessions' will extend from your mat into your life, to the point where your everyday, moment-to-moment experience is one big yoga session.
I'm looking forward to delving deeper into each of the 8 limbs in the coming weeks. Please feel free to comment or email me with any thoughts you may have!
Next Week: The Yamas