Like any deep-rooted tradition, the eight limbs of yoga begin with the philosophy that in order to reach enlightenment or a connection with the Divine, one must live by a certain set of guidelines.
Just as the Ten Commandments shape Judaism and Christianity, the yamas and niyamas shape the yogic lifestyle. Note: yoga is not a religion, I'm simply drawing a comparison that helped me understand how these principles are used.
Directly translated from Sanskrit, "yama" means "self-restraint". Consider these five guidelines "universal ethics" of the yoga world. They are basically the "don'ts". Here are the very basic definitions of each one, with my personal experience as an example of how I attempt to follow the ethic on and off the mat:
1. Ahimsa - do not harm
On the mat: If something hurts, I don't do it. Simple as that. This requires a constant re-evaluation of how I feel in each pose.
Off the mat: Ahimsa speaks to my soul - I don't do well with violence or aggression. I try my best to eat as vegan as possible, shop for ethically sourced clothing, and speak with kindness to others 🦋
2. Satya - do not lie
On the mat: Knowing whether I'm doing poses to prove something to myself or someone, or whether I'm doing poses to stretch, strengthen, and heal my body. Proceed accordingly.
Off the mat: No lying, manipulating, or hiding the truth ❌ To others or myself.
3. Asteya - do not steal
On the mat: Giving myself time to practice every day (not "stealing" from my own yoga practice).
Off the mat: Not taking what is not given to me freely, including objects, time, and energy 🧛♀️
4. Brahmacharya - do not overindulge
On the mat: Using my energy correctly. Adjusting the intensity of my asana to my energy level.
Off the mat: Not consuming food and drink in excess. Also, binge-watching Netflix definitely falls under this umbrella, and I'm definitely struggling with that 😅
5. Aparigraha - do not hoard
On the mat: Sharing my yoga practice with others. Social media has its problems, but I believe there is benefit to sharing my practice and what I've learned from it.
Off the mat: Regularly cleaning out my closet/home to donate what I no longer use. Also, not accumulating what I don't need in the first place.
This is, obviously, a very simplified list and explanation. I'll be the first to say that I'm not perfect, and I've messed up in all of these categories. The cool thing is that I can wake up the next day and try again 😉
I'm curious, though - do you find yourself following the yamas in your own life? Do you see similarities with the religion or philosophy of life that you are familiar with?
What's the first thing that comes to mind when I say YOGA?
Warrior 2? Handstands? Someone in cute leggings doing a crazy pose?
I'm really curious. What is the framework of yoga that you've absorbed through popular culture, gorgeous Instagram images, or your own experience of a yoga class?
I would argue that most of us from the Western world immediately think of the physical aspect of yoga: the poses. Moving your body through space. And many people don't realize that the physical part of yoga (called asana) is just a small piece of a much larger whole.
Yoga consists of eight "limbs". That's right! Eight different practices that all work together to "yoke" or to become one with. Whether you are yoking your body and mind, or your consciousness with Divine consciousness, the practice of yoga ranges from the cleanliness of your body to the withdrawal of your senses away from external sources. It's an endless journey that guides you to a more blissful experience of life.
I'll expand on these eight limbs over time, especially in the context of modern life and how I've personally experienced them. In the meantime, take a moment to notice whether your definition of "yoga" has been limited to just one thing. I know that mine was for a long time, as everywhere I saw the word, it was linked to people stretching and sweating and singing "Aum." 😜
My challenge to you Is to be a little more specific - instead of saying "I really enjoyed that yoga lesson", try "I really enjoyed that asana sequence". It may just open your eyes (and someone else's!) that you have so much more to experience. There's so much more to learn and discover. 😃 Isn't that exciting?
The seventh and final chakra in my two-month-long challenge.
In my ideal world, I would have completed this challenge within one week - one chakra per day. As I don't have that sort of patience with recordings and voiceovers, I ended up averaging one chakra per week. And that's OK! One thing I've noticed over the past several weeks is that I'm feeling much more content with what I can do. It's pretty freaking awesome.
The crown chakra is symbolic of your connection with the Divine. The universe, God, Gaia, whatever you'd like to call it. It is the thousand-petaled lotus, a culmination of the openness and harmony of the six other chakras. (So now you see why we start at the bottom 😉)
What fascinates me about connecting with the Divine is that it's such a polarizing idea. People will either love you for allowing yourself to feel it, criticize you for calling it a different name, or pass you off as one someone who's loony. Well, that's just dumb. Your connection (whether you have it or not) is an entirely personal matter that should be respected however you call it.
I could go on and on. But that's not for today. Today I'm sharing the crown/sahasrara chakra challenge. Credit for the chakra yoga sequences comes from Mark Stephens' book, "Yoga Sequencing."
Join me for my experience following a crown chakra sequence. Here are the basics of what I learned:
Even though I was nursing painful hips and a wandering mind, I found this practice absolutely lovely. I recognized aspects from each previous chakra sequence within this crown chakra sequence, and found myself feeling radiant, if I may say so myself.
The biggest takeaway I've had from this challenge is that each part of you deserves attention and love. Spend time with yourself. Learn what your body and your mind need on any given day or any given moment. Honor yourself. Replace bad habits and toxic people with radical self care.
It's time! What are you waiting for?
If you are looking for guidance for your first steps, or you'd like a custom-made yoga lesson, you know where to find me.
Ah, the third eye. Probably the most well-known chakra in Western society.
Personally, I've gone through phases of following my intuition and ignoring it. (Hint: save yourself the time and effort and just follow it 👍). I don't particularly like to recall the times I've ignored my self, so I was definitely excited to amp up my third eye chakra.
It could be a combination of multiple factors, but in the days following this challenge, I've found myself "in flow". I am in tune with what my body needs, and what will make me happy. Truly happy, not binge-watch-Netflix happy. I'm less tempted by distractions like social media and more inclined to reach for the book I'm reading ("Talking to Strangers" by Malcolm Gladwell) or spending time writing.
So, here we are with the third eye/ajna chakra challenge. Credit for the chakra yoga sequences comes from Mark Stephens' book, "Yoga Sequencing."
Join me for my experience following a third eye chakra sequence. Here are the basics of what I learned:
As I mentioned in the video, Aum has a beautiful presence around multiple cultures. HERE is some reading in case you're interested.
The pranayama suggested for this practice was nadi shodhana, also known as alternate nostril breathing. As much as I used to dislike this breath (it always felt like one of my nostrils was difficult to breath through), I now enjoy it very much, and find it to be even more calming than a 4-7-8 breath.
I hope you find the time to implement a couple of these elements to enhance and balance your third eye - it's done wonders for me in just a few days ☺️
See you soon for the last chakra challenge!