A new year has begun, but in classes we continue with the Yamas. The first week back after the holidays and Brahmacharya, the fourth Yama, framed our practice. Associations include abstinence as a way to assist with focus and direction. This seemed apt after the indulgences of the festive season. A movement back toward the essential, a return to inner stillness. Classes included a lot of hip openers and some twists to counter all that sitting around and feasting!
The second week of Jan we have come to our final Yama, Aparigraha- non-covetous. There are so many aspects of this Yama with potential for us to work on in our lives and on the mat. In my readings I can across this online article http://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/aparigraha---practicing-non-attachment which I thought had some nice observations. It highlights the emphasis on simplicity in our lives as an incredibly powerful way of freeing ourselves. We really do have the ability to make bold changes if we are brave enough. Yoga gives us the strength to do this...even though it may take awhile!
By letting go of our attachment to the results of our actions, our minds are freed up enormously to engage with what we are doing at each moment and experience the joy and pleasure of the act itself- as opposed to an end result which may or may not turn out as expected. Time formerly spent on worrying and speculating about the future can be redirected to attending mindfully to the now and how of what we are doing (and maybe why) and executing it with more care and attention which brings with it a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction.
On our mats this week, I am asking students to try to be present with each breath and each movement as something to attend to. Don't be concerned with the end pose. Rather, observe the subtle changes and micro movements that occur with each breath. Choose where to shift the awareness to during a pose, notice where effort is needed and where tension can be released. Listen to the body and adjust your practice accordingly: for some asana, choose whether to move dynamically, or deepen a pose with a more challenging variation. Afterward, reflect on your choices and what has motivated them. As we work the body, we train the mind!
In the past few weeks, class themes have turned to the Yamas. Ahimsa- non-violence, Satya- truthfulness, and Asteya- non stealing are the first three of the five Yamas. We can view these as quite basic and obvious guidance, things we learned as children and that as adults we need not give much thought. But if we start to consider them on a more subtle level, .we may observe habits and behaviours that lack the true spirit of the Yamas. So once more, the skill of noticing, witnessing ourselves is the crucial component for a process of reflection and change.
It seems to me one of the purposes of the Yamas is to prevent barriers and cynicism building up amongst people in a community. The Yamas help people to trust each other and feel safe to open up to others. We can rely upon being treated fairly, with kindness and consideration. In doing so, we all benefit from a deeper, truer connection with each other, as with ourselves.
On our mats, we can strive to keep a positive and encouraging attitude within, even when faced with challenging poses and unfamiliar sequences. We can notice and listen to our bodies, respecting our limits but striving for quality movement with breath that takes us to our edge but not beyond. We can notice what we do achieve vs. challenges yet to conquer. Keeping a positive frame of mind helps create that energetic vibe in class that we all benefit from.
How can we put change into action off our mats? For me, I can try to pause a few moments when interacting with someone to set aside my own agenda and notice them, really see them, connect to a positive quality in them, and perhaps do a little more listening rather than speaking. This could take awhile to cultivate!
Happy holidays everyone.
Ruth teaches yoga in Cheltenham UK, weaving yoga philosophy into the asana practice to help students connect yoga on the mat to their lives off the mat.