Mention that you ‘do yoga’ to pretty much anyone, and you’ll probably get one of these responses; 1.) Ooh you must be really bendy. 2.) I wish I could do yoga but I’m not bendy. 3.) Does someone always break wind in class?
Ignoring the one about flatulence, it can be a common misconception that yoga is all about the stuff we do on a sticky mat. It’s easy to understand why when almost everything we see about yoga usually involves someone being bendy. After all, a photo of someone being compassionate isn’t going to get you much social media action – regardless of whether or not the person doing it is in Lycra.
The silver lining to this is that even on those days when wild horses couldn’t drag you onto a yoga mat, there are still oodles of opportunities to practice. The even better news is that some of them are actually enjoyable!
We know that yoga is an art and science through which we can create an enduring connection between our body, mind and spirit. Through it we get happier and healthier on every level, by being able to live in equanimity regardless of what life flings at us.
Of course, it’s easier said than done, but if you’re looking for the closest thing to a ‘How To…’ book, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is where to start. Despite being many thousands of years old, it offers us a framework on which to build our yoga practices, which is still relevant here in the good ole’ 21st century.
If we look at the eight different ‘limbs’, or pathways, first of all it becomes obvious that one is no more important than any of the others. (Nope – not even getting a foot behind your head. Sorry about that.) There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so just by practicing some of these we’re still doing our yoga.
Kindness is King
Ahimsa is a term that comes up quite a lot in yoga, and it’s definitely open to a million interpretations. But the one thing we can all agree on is that it’s more than just non-violence. It can be as simple as an intention to be kind in thought, word and deed. And if you really want to challenge yourself, try being kind to yourself in thought, word and deed first.
Once you’ve got kindness nailed, how about moving through your day with an attitude of friendliness to everyone regardless of how they are towards you?
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting you to walk around all day with a fake saccharine smile on your face, or being superficially pleasant to people. But consider how you can bring your best expression of kindness, as often as you can – even when you’re tired, got PMT, and the person in front of you took the last seat on the bus.
Tell the truth.
You’re probably going to find this suggestion as a foundation of any set of guidelines of ‘how to be a good person’ so no surprises that it forms a part of our yoga texts too. In the yoga sutras it’s called ‘satya’, but it’s more than just omitting the truth about whether or not you had the last chocolate in the box, or how often you floss your teeth.
It’s also about walking your talk. Finding positive principles to live by – and doing it. You know the subtle, gnawing feeling when you’re not living your truth, whether that’s telling a massive porkie-pie or just a little omitting of honesty. It just doesn’t feel good.
Spoiler alert – it isn’t easy. The best way of summing it up is perhaps through this great quote by Gloria Steinem – “the truth will set you free, but first it will p*ss you off”.
The fact you’re reading Om Magazine shows that you’re obviously a human being of impeccable moral fiber. But the fact is, we’re all thieves. We’re all stealing stuff that isn’t ours (what Patanjali calls ‘asteya’).
I’m going to take a guess and assume that none of use are quite at the level of running off with the Crown Jewels, or even being light-fingered in the local corner shop. Without awareness, however, we can be unconsciously taking things which aren’t ours to take.
You can suggest that taking a little bit of stationery from the office isn’t the end of the world. Likewise not owning up when the waiter accidentally doesn’t charge you for a drink. And surely taking praise for something that wasn’t all your idea won’t hurt?
This definition of non-stealing doesn’t just mean that we shouldn’t take what’s ours, but we should also be mindful of taking advantage of a situation so that it unfairly benefits us. If it hasn’t been freely given to you – don’t take it.
‘Saucha’ is loosely defined as cleanliness or purity. Sadly, just having a good wash isn’t quite going to cut it (although it’s an excellent place to start) because it refers to your inner and outer world.
Asana is great for getting our body and mind working well but it’s not the only way. Pranayama (breathing techniques) plays an essential part in keeping the home of our spirit (our body – not the drinks cabinet) clean too.
But if we want to bring the quality of saucha into our lives, we can start with a good ole’ spring clean. You know how good it feels to finally do that massive de-cluttering mission – that’s saucha. And if clearing out under the bed hasn’t scared you, have a go at de-junking your mind too; find all those thought patterns which no longer serve you and clear them all out.