Updated: May 18, 2020
And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." Anais Nin
Your yoga practice may be purely for the physical benefits (Asana), there is certainly plenty to enjoy there, however if you are discovering the more subtle effects of the practice then this blog may pique your interest to explore more.
This month's inspiration is the Buddhist mantra:
Om mani Padme ham
'The jewel is in the lotus'
The lotus flower is a significant symbol in Eastern philosophies and traditions, as we consider the way it grows from the muddy depths to rise to the surface, opening it's petals, unblemished by the mud.
"No mud, no lotus" Thich Nhat Hanh
The mud represents our challenges and difficulties, the lotus gives us faith that we too can grow, rise and discover the jewel within ourselves- our Self. It is the mud, the challenges, that provide the opportunity for inner work and growth to reveal our true nature.
The definition of become
1: to come into existence
2: to undergo change or development
What I am certain of is that change is inevitable, is happening all the time and is often uncomfortable!
In order to 'become' we need to move through change with grace. If we are to grow and blossom like the lotus we need to put down strong roots, heed the call of the sun and rise.
When things get challenging the temptation is to bury ourselves deeply hoping the problem will go away, or to distract ourselves with thoughts of changing direction or becoming something else altogether! But change is inevitable, resistance is futile and causes suffering in one way or another.
Nevertheless if we prepare ourselves for change, accept it with grace, the rewards are huge. We grow in experience, confidence and our lives become much richer in the process.
It's one thing to know this but to 'live it' is where the work begins. Moving through the mud, nothing is clear and we have to have faith, heed the sun, to know we're heading in the right direction.
'Routine and Roots to Rise'
Our theme for this month's practice.
Routine (ritual) and Roots are what we need to practice and put in place to effect change or at least to prepare us to deal with change, so that we grow and ultimately rise like the lotus, finding our true jewel-like qualities, our true nature.
It can be overwhelming, we can be confused and disillusioned if we keep coming up against obstacles or just dont have enough belief in ourselves.
Yamas & Niyamas
The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two limbs of Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga and they are like a good travel guide to life. They are not the equivalent of the Ten Commandments, they are not rules which have consequences if not followed, they are suggestions of ways to bring harmony and peace into our human existence.
I should mention at this point that before this month I thought I knew and applied the Yamas and Niyamas in my life to some degree, but as I have often experienced when I 'think' I know something but choose to delve a little deeper; I realise there is so much for me to know and understand, it's a great way to keep my ego in check! The more I learn the less I realise I know, exciting isn't it?
I have also dotted quotes throughout from a beautiful book by Deborah Adele (referred to as DA from here on)
YAMAS - Social behaviours
Ahimsa - Nonviolence
Ahimsa can be explored in many more subtle ways than we may initially think. When we are hurried, stressed and out of balance, we can be harsh with ourselves and others, speaking unkindly or even experiencing angry outbursts.
Feeling powerless is the root of violence, it can lead to aggression, frustration, anger, or withdrawal and depression.
Our ability to be nonviolent depends on our practice of courage and balance and our ability to choose love and compassion for ourselves, others and the world around us.
'How we treat ourselves is in truth how we treat those around is.' DA.
Satya - truthfulness
Nice-ness can be an illusion, one that covers up lies, however well intentioned. Being real instead asks us to live from a place where there is nothing to hide, defend or manage. It may not be comfortable but it is trustworthy.
How often are we really honest with ourselves, truthfully do we have time to do all the things we commit ourselves to? Truthfully do we look after ourselves as well as we need to? Truthfully are we doing what is required to live the life that's right for us? Being less than truthful with ourselves leads to feelings of guilt, shame and regret. Think of the time and energy we could save if we were just honest with ourselves right from the start.
"Can you imagine speaking and acting so correctly that you never have to go back and apologise or make a new agreement?" DA
Asteya - Non-stealing
This Yama a little like Ahimsa can be seen in such a limited way, do not steal, but consider how we might steal someone's moment to shine; by drawing attention to ourselves in some way, or perhaps to finish someone's sentence without really knowing if that's what they wanted to say, preventing them from being fully heard.
When succumbing to doubt or fear we steal opportunities from ourselves, on a daily basis when we are preoccupied with the past or the future we are stealing the full experience of what is right in front of us, the present moment.
The experience of wanting what others have, the constant comparison with our peers, jealousy, feeling that others have what you deserve are aspects of our experience that are a form of stealing - the focus on others rather than ourselves. Asteya asks us to turn the focus on ourselves, practicing mindfulness and gratitude, moving from a place of abundance rather than of lacking.
Brahmacharya - Maintenance of vitality.
This Yama suggests that we maintain our vitality by not doing anything to excess, to avoid over-indulging in any form. Whether that be over-eating, over-sleeping, over-spending, over-working. No doubt we have all experienced those examples and can recall the feelings afterwards; a sense of heaviness, regret and lack of vitality!
It may seem common sense, but it requires mindfulness and awareness in the moment to know when to stop, it also requires discipline especially when we are doing something that brings satisfaction, pleasure or excitement at the time.
Brahmacharya reminds us to live each day and each action with a sense of sacredness rather than indulgence.
Aparigraha - Non-grasping
The need to have, to own, to control is powerful and often defines us in terms of success. However the more we have, the more we have to lose and that fear can make us feel 'powerless' which as mentioned above can lead to frustration, anger, depression etc.
This Yama guides us to let go, to not grasp or cling to things, people or situations.
The emotions, expectations, plans and resentments we hold onto can become heavy baggage that we carry with us everywhere we go.
Non attachment doesn't mean we have to' not care' or 'enjoy', moreover it asks us to let go of the 'ownership' of the thing/experience/person not the 'enjoyment' of it/them.
"A bird cannot hold its perch and fly" DA
NiYAMAS - Personal observances
5. Ishvana pranidana
Sauca - Purity
I'll get this out of the way quickly- yes there are some bizarre and extreme measures in yogic texts for making the body and mind pure however we wont go there today! What we'll consider here instead is the idea of 'cleaning up our act'.
Following ethical guidelines such as the Yamas will help to purify our thoughts and actions; removing the heavy clutter within our minds and bodies, gaining vitality and clarity.
Cleaning up our diet and exercise routine strengthens the body and protects the mind.
Clearing our living and work space, letting go of toxic relationships, changing job for a new career for example are ways we can clean up our lives and embrace this Niyama.
Sauca asks us to slow down, pay attention, do one thing at a time, give it your pure un-distracted attention.
"Purity asks that we make full and honest contact with the moment so there is nothing lost, and no regrets." DA
Santosha - Contentment
If we can truly give our whole attention to this present moment, feel truly grateful for what presents to us in this moment; we experience 'contentment'.
More often than not, we are distracted with what is happening next or dealing with the effects of what has just happened, focusing on what we are lacking in this moment.
All the while we rely on external sources for our happiness we will be 'lacking'. For example; I will be happy when 'such and such happens' or 'if only such and such would do this or that ' then I'll be happy, we will never be content.
There is a Chinese proverb that states, " People in the West are always getting ready to live"
Practicing gratitude regularly can alter our state of mind to one of abundance rather than one of lacking. Keeping a gratitude journal or beginning and ending the day acknowledging three things you're grateful for in your life today are steps towards experiencing Santosha - contentment.
Tapas - Self- discipline
Tapas represents the hot embers, the fire in our bellies when we are determined to persevere no matter what it takes ...once the fire has dwindled!
It is the day to day choices that forsake momentary pleasures for future rewards, our seemingly trivial daily acts of self-discipline that form the strong roots of Tapas. During times of great change or turbulence our strength of character shows up, burning self-discipline, like the fiery hot embers of the fire.
"Can we grow our ability to stay in the fire and let ourselves be burnt until we are blessed by the very thing that was causing us pain and suffering?" DA
Tapas asks that we do not run from our fears, but bravely stay, open to being transformed by the process.
Svadhaya - Self Study
When we are brave enough, curious enough to lift the lid on ourselves, we can find that we don't really know who we are.
Every comment, criticism, compliment, and experience shapes the layers of who we are, like a stack of Russian dolls, choosing which layer we present to the world depending on the situation.
To uncover who we really are means we have to unpack the layers one by one, moving through the layers we chose to hide, the ones that make us feel uncomfortable or are painful. When faced with uncomfortable things, our tendency is to justify them or blame them on external sources. If we can find the courage to move through each layer, we come closer to truly being ourselves, experiencing freedom.
"Knowing that we aren't who we thought we were begins to open up the possibility of knowing our true Self." DA
Ishvara Pranidhana - Surrender
This Niyama asks us to surrender to a power that is bigger than you or I, to something that we are all a small part of, whatever we choose to name it or maybe leave it unnamed.
To surrender to this unknown is not a passive act, it is to be an active participant in life, without the need to control it, to fully experience the magnitude and mystery that it is to be human
The ego resists surrender, fights to be in charge, but when we relinquish the power of the ego, life beings to nourish and support us in amazing ways.
The birds sound more tuneful, the trees appear greener, our family is more treasured and our hearts soften towards those that have hardened their hearts to the flow of life.
"You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in a drop." Rumi
Observing these guidelines and intentions is easier on our yoga mats, but the true beauty is found when we 'live' these guidelines in the ordinariness of our lives, when we find sacredness in the mundane.
I hope you have found some small jewel from this month's practice that has become part of your daily routine, perhaps even become a treasured ritual in your daily life.
Om mani padme ham - The jewel in the lotus........ in me, in you, in every living thing.
Om shanti, shanti, shanti
Until next time.....