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Asteya

June 23, 2010
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Asteya, or nonstealing, is one of the yamas of yoga (if you didn’t catch it before, a yama is explained here) and at first glance seemed really easy for me to master. I don’t steal. So simple. I don’t take things that aren’t mine and I never miss paying a bill. But what about keeping a library book past its due date? Or not alerting the cashier when she or gives back too much change? Or using that handicap parking spot just for a minute while you run into the store? Maybe a few extra minutes at lunch? Are those things also considered stealing? I would argue that they are. Maybe not on the same playing field as grand theft auto or anything, true. But a form of stealing nonetheless. What does this have to do with yoga?

About six months ago, I became very engrossed in my yoga practice. I was practicing asana and pranayama on a regular basis and was really becoming interested in the philosophy of yoga, something that I had never done before. And I was loving every minute of it. My mood improved, I felt genuinely good about so many things in my life. I had not felt that way in a long time, if ever. Somehow, I slipped out of it. All of it. The breathing. The postures. The daily guidance that the yogic philosophy provided me. I’ve been drinking too much alcohol. Eating too much junk. Slowly seeping back into an apathetic existence. The other day, as I was reading this blog post on The Suburban Yogini I realized that I’ve been stealing from myself. By not taking care of myself, I am robbing myself of the joy that comes with a regular yoga practice. There you have it: I am still a thief. I have managed to steal something precious from myself. No wonder I have been feeling disconnected from the world and angry with myself. So what’s the next step? Asteya. Nonstealing. It may not happen overnight. Or in one week or even a month. But I know that if I just keep trying, my intention of nonstealing or asteya will become reality.

There’s (no) crying in yoga?

June 16, 2010

You know that scene from A League of Their Own with Tom Hanks when one of the woman baseball players begins to cry and Tom Hanks, being shocked and seemingly offended, shouts “There’s no crying in baseball!”? Well I love that movie and that scene. There are so many wonderful things about that movie that I could go on and on about it here for days. But I’m not going to. This is a yoga blog after all! And this post is about crying.
When I go to yoga, there is sometimes….ok often times…..crying. Sometimes when we work into areas of the body where I tend to hold my stress, such as the shoulders or hips, I find myself crying for seemingly no reason. That’s not terribly surprising to me, as I know how moving things around like that can stir up emotional gunk that needs to get out (by my crying all over my mat, myself, the floor, wherever). Other times all it takes is sitting down on my mat in the studio, listening to my instructor and I find myself with tears streaming down my face. In the past, I may try to analyze the reason(s) behind why I cried during yoga. I can clearly remember thinking “what is wrong with me? Why am I sitting/standing/laying here crying like a baby? I will have to get to the bottom of this [so that it doesn’t happen again!]!!” I used to worry that other yogis and my instructor would see me crying in class. I don’t know what exactly I was afraid of if they did see me, but nonetheless, I was terrified that someone else might realize that I was being moved so much. But then something funny happened.
I saw another student crying in class. Then, a week later, a different student crying in class. I heard from more than one instructor that they have found themselves crying while practicing asana in class. I realized that it’s not all that unusual to cry while in class. And more importantly, it’s not something to be afraid of. It is in fact better to let it out. Now I’m not saying that I’m wailing or sobbing, chest heaving on my mat or anything like that. It’s more like a peaceful silent cry. Like I’m just leaking as opposed to willfully forcing the gunk out. But every time it happens, I find myself focused on Tom Hanks’ voice yelling “there’s no crying in baseball!” Strange association, but there you have it. Yesterday as I was in class and we settled ourselves into pigeon pose, I immediately felt a huge movement of emotional gunk being forced from its cozy home in my left hip. There it was, I felt it happening and then there were tears. Lots of tears. And it felt great.

Routines

June 13, 2010
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For the past two weeks, my routine has been thrown off-track. Two weeks ago, it was the third anniversary for my husband and I as well as his birthday (yes, they are in the same week–one day apart, to be exact). That threw off my routine. Last week, I had car troubles….thank goodness, all is well now, but it also threw off my routine due to having to rely on others to give me rides and all of the other things that come along with car troubles. I notice that whenever a kink is tossed into my life, my entire routine seems to go out the window. I become so focused on getting only the absolutely necessary things done. You know, sleeping, eating, preventing the dust bunnies from entirely taking over the house, getting to work and staying sane. And I seem to do OK with all of that. But I find that the things that go away first are my yoga classes and along with that my blogging (no yoga classes = no momentous life changing deep philosophical thoughts = no blogging).
I know that I am human and that I won’t always be able to get to my yoga classes or my blog as much as I would like, but at the end of these two weeks, I am feeling disconnected from myself in a way that I am no longer comfortable with. Before my recent devotion to studying yoga, I always felt disconnected to myself without recognizing completely what it was that I felt. I knew that I wasn’t happy but it wasn’t the type of unhappy that I could pin on anything or anyone in my life except for myself. It almost felt like I was in a sort of coma or something. As I became more and more involved in studying yoga, I began to explore myself without fear, which was HUGE for me. I have been afraid of who I really am for a very long time. Please don’t ask me why, because I don’t have a good answer for you. But I began to understand that I am perfect the way I am and that there is nothing to be afraid of. There is nothing to be afraid of. That may sound trivial, but it really was working its way in changing the way I relate to myself and the entire world. Now that I have been on an unintended hiatus in my yoga studies for over two weeks, I find myself back in the place I was for so long. But now, I recognize it. And now I can see the difference. And this time, I am not going to let myself slip into that coma. In yoga, my instructors often point out how just noticing something will organically create a change. For me, it is so true. I am noticing the difference I feel when I don’t practice my yoga and want to return to feeling more connected with who I really am. Without judging myself for falling out of my yoga routine, I can simply notice that things have changed and work towards a place that creates more ease and peace in my life. No questions asked. Isn’t it wonderful?

Knowing others is intelligence. Knowing yourself is true wisdom
~Lao Tse

Welcome mat

June 7, 2010
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Yesterday, after over one full week (!!) of not doing any asana practice, I found myself back in my studio, excited to see the bamboo floors and reconnect with my wonderful yoga mat. A long time ago I decided that I wanted a place I could escape to no matter what craziness was going on in my life. A place I could just be in without worrying about the realities and difficulties that life brings. A place that could instantly make me feel better just because I knew it was there. A place just for me. My yoga mat has stepped up to the challenge of always being available and ready for me at any time.
As soon as I unroll my mat and sit down, there is a sense of welcoming that washes over me. It doesn’t matter what happened before I opened the mat, or what will happen after I roll it back up after my ninety minute practice. In those first few minutes of set-up, I have my own ritual of unrolling and straightening my mat (it actually does have to parallel to the cracks in the floor). Then, I sit down and give the entire thing a once-over. Remove the cat hair as well as any random pieces of whatever else has decided to make my yoga mat its home while I am away. After the rigorous ten-point inspection, me and my mat are ready for class.
The wonderful thing about my yoga mat is that it is always there, ready for me. It doesn’t judge me because I spent more than a full week away from it, or because I left part of it trapped in the door frame when I carelessly put it away. Instead, it just welcomes me back. Back to my asana practice, back to the place where I can forget about everything else and move through posture after posture and breathe. I can leave it for a day, a week, a month or even years and my mat will always welcome me home with the same wonderful reception. It’s my welcome mat.

What’s a niyama anyway?

June 4, 2010

In my previous post, I mentioned that svadhyaya is one of the niyamas of yoga. Like a bad writer blogger I didn’t even bother to explain the term. At the time, it really wasn’t the most pertinent piece of information that I was trying to convey. But now I have time and will properly explain what a yama and a niyama are. This will officially be my first attempt at explaining any sort of yoga philosophy in depth (or at all really) so please don’t regard my words as the end-all be-all perfect understanding of yoga philosophy. Ok, so with that caveat, here it is: yoga is considered to have eight limbs or paths*.
~The Yamas
~The Niyamas
~Asana (postures)
~Pranayama (mindful breathing)
~Pratyahara (turning inward)
~Dharana (concentration)
~Dhyana (meditation)
~Samadhi (union of the self with object of meditation)

Now, I do not pretend to have a complete understanding of any of these limbs and I probably won’t have that understanding for a very long time, so please don’t ask me to explain samadhi in any sort of comprehensive manner.
Anyhow, back to my promise of explanation: you’ll notice that one of the limbs is the niyamas. The niyamas are also known as the five observances:
~Sauca-purity
~Santosa-contentment
~Tapas-zeal, austerity
~Svadhyaya-self study (like Vivian Ward!)
~Isvara-pranidhana – devotion to a higher power

The other limb that has five aspects is the yamas, which contain the five moral restraints:
~Ahimsa-nonviolence
~Satya-truthfulness
~Asteya-nonstealing
~Brahmacarya-moderation
~Aparighraha-nonhoarding

So as you can see, the eight limbs of yoga are a sort of guidance for yoga practice. Although most people think of yoga as just the asana practice, yoga is really anything you do mindfully. One of the instructors at my studio loves to do a substantial amount of ab-work at the start of many of her classes. She is always nice enough to remind us that though we may complain that working on our abs isn’t “really” yoga, ANYthing you do mindfully is yoga. Even one of the eight limbs of yoga is breathing in a mindful manner. There is nothing more simple than breathing in and out is there? And yet when you do it with intention or mindfulness, you are practicing yoga. The idea that everything we do is yoga is one that did not occur to me until quite recently. That knowledge alone has transformed my life in ways that I never could have imagined. The way I talk to an angry person at work can be a practice of yoga if I do it mindfully instead of just letting my filters down and saying something that only escalates the situation to a new (more intense) level. The realization that I can practice yoga anytime anywhere has really been powerful for me. It really never occurred to me that I could practice yoga outside of class without ever doing a single asana posture. Good thing I have been practicing non-asana yoga this week, as I haven’t been to a single class in that same time frame. I’m also human!

*All yoga philosophy information came from “Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga” by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison.

It’s Easier to Believe the Bad Stuff

June 3, 2010

Svadhyaya, or self study is one of the niyamas (a term I don’t have time to go into in this post, stay tuned!) of yoga. Self study is simply noticing the way you are. And the way you are with the way you are (if you are still with me, good!). At some level, everyone engages in this practice of self study. Take for example, Vivian Ward, the glorified prostitute from “Pretty Woman” when she says to Edward “It’s easier to believe the bad stuff. You ever notice that?” Pretty insightful information for a hooker from the streets, don’t you think?
On a deeper level, the practice of self study can be transformative. Just live Vivian, I find that it is so much easier for me to believe the bad things about myself than to believe in the good and wonderful parts of myself. I have so often in the past not felt that I deserved good things. When something good would happen to me, I shrugged it off as being lucky. Other people in my life noticed this tendency of mine long before I did. Years ago, a mentor of mine told me “you just need to know that you’re worth it and go for it!” At the time, I pondered about whether or not that was true or whether he was just nudging me in the direction HE thought I should go. Now, it has become all too clear to me that he was right on the money. Years later, I am just now seeing the truth to that statement and seeing changes in my attitude surrounding what I deserve. Whether I am hesitant to buy a great piece of clothing that I have been wanting or hesitant to apply for that great job because I am afraid that I won’t be good enough to get it or because I haven’t worked hard enough to deserve something like that terrific job, that same idea follows me around.
But as I was reflecting on the wonderful things in my life yesterday, my third wedding anniversary I realized that though I feel incredibly grateful to have my wonderful husband in my life, I do not feel lucky. Instead, I feel that I truly deserve to have such a terrific person to go through life with. At the risk of coming across as a television evangelist who has been relegated to the late late late night time slots among a never ending cycle of infomercials, I am still going to say it. I deserve good things! I deserve positive things in my life! I deserve to be happy! I’m good enough. I’m smart enough and gosh darnit, people like me! (Well, not most people, but that’s another story. And if you get my SNL reference, hooray!).
I am now making every effot to *not* expect bad things to happen and blow off the wonderful things in my life as “luck.” Though I do believe that luck does play a part in the world, I have given it a much bigger role in my life than it actually deserves. And in doing so, denying myself the notion that I actually do deserve goodness. This realization seems so elementary and yet at the same time, completely life changing.

Yoga in the Great Outdoors

May 31, 2010

You know those great pictures of people doing amazing yoga postures in front of equally amazing landscapes?  Like for instance, full tree pose on a boulder surrounded by mountains overlooked by a gorgeous sunset?  Yeah. Well, I am certainly not in a place in my practice where I can pull those poses off on flat ground on my mat, in my yoga studio.  Which doesn’t bother me.  But every time that I am in a peaceful outdoor space, especially around water, I find myself *needing* to do random yoga poses, throwing the camera at my husband and demanding “take my picture while I do this posture!”  He is wonderful enough to play along with me, even though he has no yoga-tendencies himself (I did get him to attend one class with me a LOOOONNNGGG time ago, but the yoga bug has never bitten him like it has me).  After a few attempts at the above mentioned tree pose and maybe attempting a warrior II pose, I go about my hike/walk/day happy with the knowledge that I too have an awesome beach/creek/outdoors yoga shot! Now, of course it’s nothing like some others I have seen, but it’s all mine and it’s still a great shot of me doing yoga, right?  Well it turns out that the way I envision myself while practicing is completely different than how I *actually* look while I am practicing yoga.  I literally did a double and triple take the first time I viewed photos of myself practicing yoga! I asked myself, is that really what I look like? Surely, I don’t look like that to other people, do I?  That doesn’t look graceful at all!  Then I decided, eh whatever.  I love practicing yoga, no matter what I look like!

Here I am trying some yoga in the creek

And my attempt at Tree Pose on the beach