Yoga is so much more.

By week 4 of Yoga Teacher Training we have established that yoga is so much more than just asanas. But what does it mean?

Yoga teacher training is tough, But not for the reasons you would think. When I tell people YTT is tough, they think about the Asanas (arm balances, headstands, lotus pose…). But what I actually find even more challenging is the philosophy, all the new concepts we learn about. I don’t mean that the poses are not challenging, they are believe me, but I find it easier to work on a pose, than to work on myself. This is where the real work starts for me, working on a lifestyle that balances me and grounds me so my mind can remain calm in asanas, meditation and life (especially when challenges rise, either at work or at home).

So let’s talk about the philosophy of Ashtanga yoga.

Ashtanga yoga means the eight limbs of yoga. In these eight limbs, you find the Asanas, wich is the third limb. The fourth limb is Pranayama (breathing techniques). Pratyahara (fifth limb) is the control of the senses, while Dharana (sixth limb) is concentration, and Dhyana (seventh) meditation. The last one is Samadhi (eighth limb) which is a super conscious state, the ultimate & final union with nature.

What I want to talk about are the first two limbs, the foundation of Ashtanga Yoga. The Yama and the Niyama.

I find they are enough work for me as it is. Of course I practice my Asanas (third limb), I even practice pranayma (fourth limb) and I meditate (sixth and seventh limbs). But I find working with the Yama and Niyama a lot harder than I thought it would be when I first heard about them.

So what are they?

Here are the five Yamas.

–      The first Yama is Ahimsa – non violence. Don’t cause any harm of pain to anyone (including yourself).
–      The second Yama is Satya – truthfullness. Remain true to yourself and to your word.
–      The third one is Brahmacharya – control of the senses. Treat yourself and others well, don’t rely on small pleasures for happiness.
–      The forth one is Aparighraha –non-covetousness, non-possessivness.
–      The fifth one is Asteya – non-stealing. Don’t steal from others (money, time, it could be anything), but also share what you have, don’t keep everything to yourself.

Then we have the five Niyamas.

–      The first one Saucha is purity, cleanliness (”Purity of thoughts gives purity of attitude, gives purity of actions” – Master Paalu).
–      Santosha – Contentment. It just is the way it is. Happiness will go up and down, containment is with you at all times.
–      Tapas – Self discpline, self pratice. The self practice of the other Yamas and Niyamas is tapas for example.
–      Swadhyaya – Self-study and study of scriptures
–      Ishwara Pranidhana – Devotion, surrender. Meaning accepting you’re part of somehting bigger than yourself.

What amazes me is how they are all linked to each other. This is why they are called limbs. They are all very closely related, you cannot separate them, and trying to apply one without the others is in vain. You need them all to work together in balancing you and your mind.

When I first heard of these “principles” I felt they were pretty straightforward and simple to apply. But I know better now. It’s a learning process.  Let me take an example with the first Yama, Ahimsa – non violence.

I thought this one would be really easy to implement in my life. Everyday though I struggle. When my daughter is having a fit and I want to scream at her. When I want to push myself so hard that I don’t pay attention to the pain. When someone is really rude or mean and I want to retaliate. In all these little moments everyday, I have to remind myself to let go, to not let it affect me. It is much harder than I expected.

Another example is Santosha (the second Niyama) – contentment.

I find this one very hard. To just be able to accept that things are the way they are is a real challenge for me. It can be when a pose is not accessible to me but it is to the people around me. It can be when someone tells me about their super fun job when I’m struggling with mine. Being happy with what I have now is something I really need to be working on. Learning more about myself, my strenghtes, my potential is definitely helping.

Satya (the second Yama)– truthfullness – is very much connected to Ahimsa and it can be confusing when staying true to yourself and your word actually causes pain to another person. This duality is something I am still exploring and trying to make sense of.

The fifth Yama, Asteya, is non stealing – and it will lead to Santosha. Being honest and focused on what you have will help you being satisified with what you already possess. On your yoga mat, it means focusing on what you have, no competitiveness, being grateful for what you have. If you can manage this, then Santosha will come.

Can you start seeing how all these “limbs” are connected to each other? It is hard to do one without the other.

Yesterday we talked about mindset. I think it really comes down to that, attitude towards life, towards things that are coming at you (from outside or inside), how you respond to them. Just remember, there are no bad days in yoga, just days with yoga. “It’s not better, it’s not worse, it just is what it is now”.

Kali – 200 Hr weekday.