Yoga is a powerful practice that works on both the body and the mind. It helps in transforming your whole personality and not just your physical body. It’s a common misconception that Yoga is all about complicated postures. But achieving the splits or doing a complicated backbend doesn’t change who you are as a person. That sort of approach limits the concept of Yoga to what you can do on the mat.
Here are a few ways you can extend your Yoga practice into your daily life.
If you’ve ever been to a Yoga class you would have been encouraged not to do too much, nor too little. Anytime you hold a Yoga posture for more than your body can manage you create stress. If you push too hard you’ll feel pain or extreme discomfort. But if you are lazy in your practice you will not benefit from it either. To feel recharged and refreshed you have to put in the right amount of effort. The right amount of effort will be different for everyone so your practice may look very different to someone else’s.
The concept of moderation can be applied to possessions, diet, exercise, sleep and everything else in life. Overindulgence, even in things that are good for you (e.g. sunshine), can be harmful. The same can be said for self-denial or suppressing your needs. Learning to live in moderation is a successful strategy for balancing energy and staying healthy.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika prescribes the sadhaka (practitioner) with a series of cleanliness requirements. Some of these are a little out of date but it is possible to bring some of these ancient ideas into the modern world in an accessible and easy-to-implement way. Having a dedicated Yoga space to practise in, wearing clean clothes and – if possible – showering before you practise allows you to approach each session with a clean slate. When you’re clean on the outside, how do you feel on the inside?
Saucha (cleanliness) can be applied to your body, mind, spirit and surroundings, helping to direct you towards a pure and positive life. You are not your body but your Yoga practice happens inside your body, and so keeping it healthy and clean is a good way of respecting the practice. Having a sense of cleanliness in your environment is likely to help you feel a whole lot better and clearer in your mind too.
AHIMSA OR NON-VIOLENCE
Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas. The Yamas are part of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path that helps us figure out how to live in the world in the most meaningful and peaceful way. Ahimsa means non-harming or non-violent. So you can practise kindness in your physical body during your Yoga practice, for example not twisting at the SI joint. But you also want to clear yourself of all obstacles that bring self-doubt or shame, guilt and fear. Ahima first asks you to find kindness and compassion in how you behave towards yourself and others. Then you get to reap the benefits of living in peace and ease.
Often it can be really hard and feel like a struggle to find kindness and compassion. Start by picturing yourself in some situation where your ahimsa or peacefulness is in jeopardy. Places where you feel stressed; in your body or your mind or your life. And then think about what it would take to feel a state of peace and ease within. This practice will help you to embody that feeling of peace so that you can practise it when a real-life situation comes up that requires ahimsa. So keep returning to it again and again. You can practise feeling and even chanting the mantra “lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu”; “may all beings be happy and free”. Or you could tie ahimsa to your breath: inhaling peace and drawing it into your body and your mind and your spirit; exhaling it out to share with the rest of the world. As you do this, feel your whole being in a gesture of invoking peace.
TAPAS OR DISCIPLINE
Tapas is one of the niyamas, part of the eight-limbed path that focuses on how to live in your body. Tapas speaks to the concept of discipline so that you can sustain your values in order to live in a way that is meaningful.
Tapas translates as fire or discipline or commitment. The idea is that fire burns away the things that you don’t need, leading to transformation. Having the art of discipline in your life helps you to persevere in order to pursue your dreams, your desires and find fulfillment. Having sustainability or commitment helps your perseverance to last longer. So in your practice you want to make sure that you’re well aligned so that you can be stable and sustainable.
A little bit of a fiery flow is good to get tapas going. It’s all about your effort and will to practise – even when you want to quit or when things get challenging. In the end, that perseverance is going to make you stronger and more aligned with who you want to be.