Yoga Beyond the Mat
What Does Yoga Mean to you?
Since Yoga’s arrival to the west in the early 1890’s, it’s popularity has been growing exponentially. There can be true magic and benefit in growth, but as the pace accelerates, the Teachings are at risk of being lost in the shiny pose, body perfect, touching your eyes with your toes image of what yoga has become.
Yoga in the West has very much moved away from its Authentic teachings. I admit, I did not realise the depth of the teachings, until I did my Yoga Teacher Training, having only really attended classes which were predominantly Asana based. I am truly grateful to these classes and the wonderful teachers who really opened up my heart and soul to one aspect of Yoga, which propelled me on my journey to training. Since my training, I have been able to have a greater understanding of the Teachings. I believe as Teachers we have a responsibility to offer knowledge on the wonders of these Teachings to our students, as they have the potential to have a a very powerful impact on people’s lives.
The Sanskirt word for Yoga is “Union” union with the true self with cosmic consciousness. It is a journey of self exploration, of mastering and transcending our thoughts, ego and actions. It is not merely a physical practice, it is full body, mind and soul practice.
A great Yogi, Sage and author by the name of Patanjali complied a very famous text called the Yoga Sutras. Patanjali was a very wise Yogi and was able to write these texts based on his own personal experiences. It is known that Patanjali was the first to write down these teachings, however Yoga was being practised widely before this. In his 8 Limbs of Yoga called Ashtanga, Patanjali sets out 8 guidelines on how to live a Yogic life. These offerings are not individual steps to enlightenment but are to be encompassed all together. There is not one that can exist without the other. These include: Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
Each month we will explore the different aspects of each limb to allow us to grow within our Yoga practice. I invite you to incorporate these into your life, not as a moral code but as tools to grow and expand as an individual.
The 8th Limb Path:
Yamas: 1st Limb
Patanjali set out several specific qualities (Yamas) and suggests that the Yogi bring these qualities into their life to create balance and achieve higher levels of consciousness.
These include: Ahimsa (non- violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non- stealing), Brahmacharya (devotion to the cosmic self), Aparigraha (without possessions).
Above are the literal translations of these Yamas, but there is more depth and wisdom to these teachings, which we will now explore in greater detail.
This act of non violence towards ourselves, our fellow humans, animals and planet. It is being wise and non violent in our actions but also in our thoughts. It is the practice of being non judgemental, not being critical or reactive towards ourselves and others. The practice of compassion. The practice of seeking to live through love, with peace from our heart centre. That we are living with gratefulness no matter what the circumstances. That we have the ability to surrender to the present moment despite the pains and with all the pleasures.
This is the quality of truthfulness and not just merely speaking the truth or not lying, but exploring your true nature. Exploring that part of you which is your true Self, your soul, beyond the ego, beyond the mind. The part of you that only knows love.
To explore this part, one requires stillness and space, where silence can be manifested and from that silence the true nature is revealed.
The direct translation of this Yama is non- stealing but it is much more than this. It relates to the qualities of non attachment, giving up the chatter of the mind which constantly wants something different, the mind which is never satisfied. When one gives this up, their life naturally fills with more and not more in a sense of material gain, but more in the context of evolution, of altered consciousness, more because they appreciate and can be grateful for their lot.
The practice encourages generosity and it is more than not just stealing from your neighbour.
Brahma translates to “cosmic self” and acharya translates to “the one who is devoted to that”. This is the state when one has such awareness that they are experiencing all things to their fullest value e.g. observing a leaf or seed of tree and connecting to the wonder of it’s intelligence, to know how to be a tree. You experience life with full awareness as if you are meditating in every moment. In this state one is balanced and calm, experiencing life in an equanimaous manner. This supports the Yogi to avoid the cycle of craving and aversion which creates suffering in life.
This Yama links in with Asteya and encourages the Yogi to move away from the idea of possessing anything, be it material items or others. It does not mean we have to live without material items or people, but we are no longer in a state where we are needy, where we feel we cannot live our life without these incessant requirements for things. It is a state of not needing and surrendering to what is. The state of letting go. It is being able to adapt to what ever circumstances you are given. Trusting in the plan which the universe has in store for you.
So we can begin to use our integrated Yoga practice to ignite these qualities within. We then build up the capacity to channel them out into our lives, in every moment. Beyond our mat.
(Translation, from “This is That” Anand Mehrota Sattva Yoga).