Over the course of the next couple of weeks I will be journeying through the Yamas & Niyamas using photography. I'll be posting an image showcasing my interpretation of each Yama & Niyama and follow that up with some thoughts. It's not my idea though so I have to give big props to my friend Kate Baldwin over at Yoga Revolutionaries (www.yogarevolutionaries.com) for the inspiration! The cool thing about the campaign is that you cannot focus on the physical part of the yoga practice; in sanskrit we call that asana and in today's world we are often inundated with seeing yoga represented solely by the asana and usually through lots of "yoga selfies"... So, no yoga selfies - I love this campaign! Real yoga folks - and it feels so, so good! Taking the focus away from the physical into the roots of the practice. It's easy but important not to get "stuck" focusing on the physical/asana even though that's the more common way we are drawn towards a yoga practice. You see the practice changes and it's supposed to. After 16 years, I have some real life experience of my body changing pretty dramatically. Having babies, getting sick and/or injured and getting damn older... It's important to not get all attached - because the way these shapes look & feel in your body change and will continue to change again & again & again. Do I still love the asana - you better believe it! Do I still need it in my body - damn right, but it looks and feels different that it did way back then - as matter of fact, my body looks and feels different every single time I step on my mat. And, I bet, if you pay close enough attention to your own body that yours feels different from day to day too. I still love a challenging, vigorous practice, but most of the time I am using my yoga practice not only to release the kinks and tension of body, but more importantly to release the kinks and tension in my mind; and I can tell you, those are wayyyyyy harder and deeper to unravel. I see this mini-project as a way to root down to take our focus away from the physical and hone in on the foundations of this practice; to recalibrate and inspire. So, here we go!
Firstly, what are the Yamas & Niyamas? Well, simply put they are yoga's ethical guidelines. Though rooted in Hinduism, I always felt that they perfectly fit into my Roman Catholic interpretation of the Ten Commandments (and by the way, I love looking at the parallels in world religions but that is a whole other blog post). The Yamas & Niyamas are two of the eight-limbed path of yoga as presented by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. The first and arguably the most important Yama is the first, Ahimsa. Ahimsa (अहिंसा) is translated as "non-harming" or "not to injure". Sutra 2.35: ahimsa pratisthayam tat vaira-tyaga loosely translates as "firmly establishing nonviolence ceases hostility". This is where the idea of vegetarianism is rooted. Though I've had long periods of time committed to vegetarianism and even a vegan lifestyle over the years, I am no longer a vegetarian and for a long time I struggled with that. The long and the short of it is that I just feel so much better physically and mentally keeping meat in my diet. But it's been a struggle. One of my most beloved teachers is a strong advocate of veganism and I've learned so very much from him and have deep respect for his choices. But, like I said, over time the body shifts and what may have worked for you in the past may not work for you over time. I found that simply practicing mindful awareness with our food choices has made all the difference. I am VERY conscious of where the meat I am eating, our children are eating, comes from and how much meat is in our diet. Let's face it folks - factory farming is GROSS. It's horrifically bad for the animals, horrifically bad for the environment and horrifically bad for our bodies and our minds. There are so many other resources available and it just takes a little extra effort to seek out alternatives. We get all of our meat from local farmers (thank you Farmer Don & Joan over at www.dancinghenfarm.com ) where the animals are raised on green pastures and able to enjoy a free & happy life. I've spent time there volunteering and learning and we now raise our own happy, free-range chickens and enjoy fresh, delicious eggs from our backyard. We purchase all of our dairy from a local, non-profit, organic dairy a mile away from our home. We enjoy a plentiful backyard vegetable garden and have been members of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for the last seven years which keeps fresh, organic vegetables at the center of our meal choices. I feel incredibly blessed to live in this littler corner of the world where these resources are not only available but plentiful and not only does it make me feel so good knowing where our food is coming from, but I love that our children have a real understanding of the mindful choices surrounding the food we eat. We limit our meat consumption and most of our meals are not meat-centric if any meat is offered at all. It works for us and with a large family we've found a balance that sustains.
There is more to Ahimsa then food choices and sources and that's where I want to land. Ahimsa means making choices every single day to not cause harm in our choices; in our words, in our actions and ultimately in our thoughts. Does this mean that I always get it right - um, no.... I am a work in progress. It means choosing to step away from the drama. An innate understanding that we are all doing the best we can and no-one is capable of always getting it right. Impossible - we are all human beings and we are beautifully, perfectly flawed and nicked up and trying our very best. If we keep that in mind when someone is feeling or behaving ugly we can get past the judging and find a space of tenderness and empathy choosing to see not the "ugly" of it but the sacredness of it all. Now, I am not advocating to repeatedly hold space for the ugliness or allowing blatantly abusive words and/or behavior to seep down deep causing a cycle of dysfunction or worse. At the end of the day, we have a choice to simply walk away - to detach and let go. It's not your battle you see and we are free to make conscious choices to care for ourselves instead of wasting time and energy trying to influence or change somebody else. We are all traveling down our own paths in this life learning & growing. It's not your dharma (path) and it's not in your control - it never was. What is in your control is your reaction and not only in words & actions, but more importantly in thoughts. We need to shift our vantage point from one of judging to that of kindness and compassion knowing that at some point we will be on the other side of it, in some capacity, working through whatever it is we've been asked by the Universe to tackle. Ahimsa baby!
I look forward to the next eight weeks or so traveling through the Yamas & Niyamas with all of you. I'd love to hear from you on your own experiences so please feel free to leave a comment or question. Let's all lay it down together and learn and grow.