Sunday, January 13, 2013

New Beginnings

On January 8, I started a Tuesday night beginner's class. I figured that with the advent of a new year, it would be a fresh start for me as well as the students. Six students showed up, four of them brand new to yoga and two of them ongoing students. As always, the students taught me as much or more than I taught them. New students have such a fresh insight into yoga and ask such great questions. 

After studying yoga for 23 years and teaching for 13 years, I am continually surprised by how the Yamas and Niyamas relate to every situation. The Yama I'm referring to is Satya, truthfulness. 

Carl Jung writes, "A lie would make no sense unless the truth was felt to be dangerous." Lie seems like a strong word, but when used as a noun, it has many meanings: untruth, falsehood, fib, fabrication, deception, invention, fiction, piece of fiction, exaggeration, etc. So, there are many kinds of non-truths. 

According to my own emotions in a situation, I often ask myself, "Is that thought true?" And most of the time the answer is no. I give a lot of the credit for my awareness and realization of this Yama to my primary yoga teacher. She has taught and continues to teach me so much more than asanas (poses), and I am forever grateful to her.

We put so many expectations on ourselves that we sometimes feel forced to tell a lie. I've decided to issue myself a challenge and try to count how many times in one day I lie. I know without a doubt that it will be way more than I imagine. Most of the lies won't be intentional, but I'll keep a journal and in an upcoming post let you know what I discovered. Who knows how it will start, but it could start as soon as I wake up with a thought like, "I got up late because my husband didn't wake me up." Lie number one right out of bed! I'm certainly old enough to be responsible for getting myself up on time. 

I watch and listen to student tell themselves lies in class. I'm not flexible so I can't do yoga, I'm not as good as the person next to me, I'm too old … and so on. With beginners, I gently remind them that yoga is not a competitive sport, and they only need to focus on their own pose in class. With more intermediate students, I often ask them if what they just said is true, and usually that leads into a brief discussion about Satya. All of us need reminders about what is true and what is not. 

In my first beginners class this year, a student asked me if I really thought a 60-year-old person could change the bad habits they had created throughout their lives. I told this student that first they must have the awareness something needs to change, and then they have to be willing to do the work necessary to change it.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Philosophical Side of Yoga

Happy New Year! This year I'm delving into the Yamas and Niyamas, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. 

At the beginning of all of my classes, I ask a student to pick one of the eight limbs of yoga, and then I read a brief description about whatever they've chosen and we have a short discussion about it. My intention is to plant a seed (bija in Sanskrit) for the students to think about. 

My passion is yoga and my feeling is that to only teach asanas is doing a disservice to my students. While the majority of them seem eager to do asanas, they also enjoy the bits of information about the eight limbs of yoga. They really seem to want to know what yoga is, not just how to do the asanas. I don't offer a buffet of different styles of yoga, pilates, Zumba, etc., just yoga. I figure if students are looking for the buffet, there are plenty of opportunities in almost any fitness center.

As Deborah Adele puts in her book, The Yamas & Niyamas; Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice:
What are the Yamas and Niyamas?

The Yamas and Niyamas are foundational to all yogic thought. Yoga is a sophisticated system that extends far beyond doing yoga postures; it is literally a way of living. Yoga is designed to bring you more and more awareness of not only your body but also your thoughts. The teachings are a practical, step-by-step methodology that bring understanding to your experiences, while at the same time pointing the way to the next experience. They are like a detailed map, telling you where you are and how to look for the next landmark. They faxilitate taking ownership of your life and directing it towards the fulfillment that you seek.

The Yamas and Niyamas may be thought of as guidelines, tenets, ethical disciplines, precepts, or restraints and observances. I often think of them as jewels, because they are the rare gems of wisdom that give direction to a well-lived and joyful life. In yogic philosophy, these jewels sit as the first tow limbs of the 8-fold path.

The first five jewels are referred to as Yamas, a Sanskrit word which translates literally into the word "restraints" and includes nonviolence, truthfulness, non stealing, non excess, and non possessiveness. The last five jewels are referred to as the Niyamas, or "observances," and include purity, contentment, self-discipline, self study, and surrender. Many guides to ethical conduct may leave us feeling overwhelmed with concepts, or boxed in by rule sets. Yoga's guidelines do not limit us from living life, but rather they begin to open life up to us more and more fully, and they flow easily into one another in ways that are practical and easy to grasp.