Nirodhaḥ Yoga Blog
To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.
- Lao Tzu
The question "why meditate?" has been answered by many. From Scientific American (we have this issue available for you to read in our studio) to the National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health, scientific institutions are now recognizing the value of an established yoga and meditation practice.
Emerging research into a regular practice's benefits is now mainstream. Among the benefits suggested by this research are
On a personal level, "why meditate?" seems clearly answered to me as a decade-long, daily practitioner as well. Whereas at first, I dreaded sitting for meditation, I now crave it. It is the first thing I do in the morning and I rarely want to stop once I've started.
But how do you get to that point? Because I hear so many beginners telling me that meditation is not for them. That their mind is too busy or chaotic or uncontrollable for meditation to work. That they get bored.
I can only repeat what my own teacher has said to me many times. If you are bored sitting quietly with yourself, what does that say about you? Why would anyone else want to be with someone who is bored with themselves?
My instinct is that these would-be meditators are not actually bored but scared. I can relate. Stepping into the void of my own mind has been deeply uncomfortable at times.
Believe me, I did not begin with a calm and quiet mind. Meditation has developed that kind of mind.
And it can for you too. It won't always be easy but I promise that if you stick with it, you will see dividends. Probably larger than you could have ever imagined.
So now to the more important question: how to meditate? Well, there are many ways to meditate - walking meditation, mantra meditation, vipassana meditation, etc.
I always suggest a few principles for people asking me how to begin meditating.
For those eager to dive in, I offer a breath-centered meditation. I like breath-centered meditation for beginners for a number of reasons. It gives something very concrete for the mind to focus on. It is secular in nature. And the breath is always with us, so it's easy to use at any time.
I hope you find that glimmer of peace you're seeking.
A 15-Minute Beginner Meditation Practice
Want more guidance on how to meditate? Join Erin for a three-week Beginner Meditation Workshop in January. It's the perfect way to start the new year!
We might call this post "How to Breathe Correctly". But pranayama is about much more than breathing.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word made of two parts: "prana," which means vital energy and "yama," which means control. So pranayama means to control one's store of vital energy. This is accomplished through exercises involving the breath.
Pranayama is the fourth limb of Raja or Ashtanga Yoga and is listed after Asana. Accordingly, pranayama is often taught as a next step after a beginner starts to understand how to practice yoga poses correctly.
Pranayama both enhances our experience of asana, as it allows us to regulate our breathing to practice yoga poses more steadily and comfortably, and is the first step toward meditation, as it balances our energies and settles the mind.
All breathing is practiced through the nose in yoga. However, if you feel claustrophobic or you're having trouble getting your breath, try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth a few times and return to breathing through your nose, and then, the pranayama practice as you're ready.
It may seem esoteric, but actually pranayama practices are very simple. The most important thing for the beginning practitioner is not to strain or overdo these practices, which is why it is usually recommended to practice these exercises under the guidance of an experienced teacher.
There are also several breathing techniques that, while not formal pranayama practices, are very useful in teaching the beginner how to breathe comfortably and correctly before trying to practice pranayama in earnest. Practice all breathing and pranayama techniques for at least a few rounds and up to a few minutes each.
I explore all these preparatory exercises and pranayama practices below with gifs. Because the breath is really subtle, you'll have to pay close attention to see what is happening in the gifs.
1 to 2 Breathing Ratio Technique
1 to 2 breathing is the simplest exercise and a great way to practice breathing correctly.
You can practice this sitting or lying down, though it may be nice to begin lying down, so you don't have to contend with the forces of gravity while you get the hang of it.
First, make sure you are not breathing in a reversed pattern. Bring your breath into this format - as you breathe in, your belly expands, as you breathe out, your belly contracts. It may feel unnatural at first but keep working at it and eventually you will be able to control your breath in this way. That is step one.
Second, once you've mastered this full breath, work on bringing your inhalation and exhalation into a 1 to 2 ratio. So for example, if you breathe in for four, breathe out for eight. If that feels like a strain, start with a 1 to 1 ratio (in for four, out for four) and gradually increase your exhalation until you can comfortably retain a 1 to 2 ratio with your breathing.
The reason we focus on the exhalation in yoga is that it induces the vagus nerve to initiate the relaxation response through the parasympathetic nervous system.
4 - 2 - 8 Breathing Technique
This exercise is an expansion of the 1 to 2 breathing ratio and another exercise that is not a formal pranayama. Once you've mastered the 1 to 2 breath, you can start to find natural pauses between every inhalation to exhalation and every exhalation to inhalation.
You'll now be breathing in a 4 to 2 to 8 ratio. There is a very subtle distinction between this and the 1 to 2 breathing ratio. If you're not paying attention, this gif might look identical to the one above it.
So for example, your breath might go like this - inhale for four, pause for two, exhale for eight, pause for two (then begin again with the next inhalation).
As always, if at any point your breath becomes strained or you feel uncomfortable, resume your normal breathing and try again once you're ready.
Deerga Swasam Pranayama or Three Part Breath
Now we enter the world of bona fide pranayama. Deerga swasam or the three part breath is one of the gentlest pranayamas and is there are no contraindications for practicing it.
I am demonstrating it on the floor so that the movement is more visible but traditionally, it is practiced sitting up.
Start with a complete exhalation. Next, breathe into your lungs one-third of the way, concentrating on filling the very bottom of your lungs so that the belly moves. Then, breathe another third of the way up, concentrating on the center of your lungs, so your chest moves. Finally, fill your lungs all the way to the top, so you feel your collarbones spread apart and rise slightly. Follow this with another complete exhalation, smoothly moving from the top all the way down to the bottom.
If you are not used to breathing this deeply, you may cough. In that case, reduce the range of motion until you can practice this without coughing or return to the 4 -2 - 8 breath. Gradually, your lung capacity will increase and you'll be able to utilize more of your lungs as you practice deerga swasam.
Kapalabhati Pranayama or Skull-Shining Breath
This is the first pranayama that has an invigorating, rather than calming effect on the nervous system. It is contraindicated for heart disease, high blood pressure, vertigo, epilepsy, stroke, hernia or gastic ulcer. If you have one of these conditions, it is highly advisable to seek out instruction from an experienced teacher. It is also not recommended during pregnancy.
Kapal means skull and bhati means shining or illuminating. So kapalabhati pranayama can be translated to skull shining breath. In yoga traditions, it is thought that this practice stimulates the pituitary gland, which creates an illuminating effect and cleanses the respiratory system in preparation for other pranayama practices.
It is practiced by snapping the abdominal wall backward to force the air out of the lungs through the nasal passages on the exhalation. The inhalation is a natural breath in, so that the focus on this exercise is on the exhalation.
Notice in the gif how subtle the movement is. Most of the movement is concentrated in the belly. You don't need to practice too vigorously. The sensation should be like trying to gently blow something out of your nose.
Always follow your kapalabhati practice by blowing your nose with a tissue to clean out the respiratory passages. Kapalabhati is also considered a kriya, or cleansing practice.
Bhastrika Pranayama or Bellows Breath
Bhastrika is translated as bellows, so this is the bellows breath. Once you practice it, you'll see why!
It is another invigorating pranayama and is contraindicated for stomach or intestinal ulcers, hernia, heart disease, high blood pressure, overactive thyroid gland or chronic diarrhea. If you have one of these conditions, it is highly advisable to seek out instruction from an experienced teacher. It is also recommended to not practice this on a full stomach.
Bhastrika is practiced by gradually speeding up your natural breathing rhythm like a bellows. Now, the concentration is equally on the inhalation and exhalation.
When practicing, it should never feel like a strain. So only go as fast as you can control. To end, slowly bring your breath back to normal.
Again, this is a subtle practice and barely visible in the gif (which is why I have my hand placed on my belly - you don't need to do that).
Although subtle, it revitalizes the nervous system and reduces residual air in the base of the lungs, which improves transfer of oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream and carbon dioxide from the bloodstream into the lungs (where it is then expelled through the exhalation).
This might prove to be an excellent exercise for those recovering from Covid, as it may improve blood oxygenation levels and is therefore known as a blood purifier.
Nadi Suddhi, Nadi Shodhana, Anulom Vilom
or Alternate Nostril Breath
This is my favorite pranayama and another very gentle, calming practice. There are no contraindications for practicing this simple variation. However, if you are stuffed up, I encourage you to practice kapalabhati or even use a neti pot first to make this pranayama more comfortable.
It has a number of names - Nadi Suddhi, Nadi Shodhana, or Anulom Vilom. In my tradition, it is called Nadi Suddhi, so that is what I will call it. Nadi are the invisible energy channels through which prana is conducted and suddhi means purification. So this exercise, purifies the nadis.
The first thing to master is the hand postion, or mudra, used with nadi suddhi. Always use the right hand to practice mudras with nadi suddhi.
I use vishnu mudra (index and middle finger to palm, all other fingers extended) but you can also use chin mudra (index finger and thumb touch, all other fingers are extended). To learn more, visit our blog post on mudras.
Gently block your right nostril with your thumb and breathe in through the left nostril. Unblock your right nostril and block your left nostril with your fingers. Breathe out through the right nostril, then inhale through the right. Switch nostrils again and breathe out through the left nostril. This is one round.
So the pattern of this pranayama is inhale, switch nostrils, exhale, inhale, switch nostrils, exhale; switching after every inhalation to exhale through the opposite nostril.
This pranayama is thought to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic sides of the autonomic nervous system. It produces a balancing effect on the body and acts as a tonic for the nervous system.
Pranayama is an incredible tool to add to your yoga practice and can be especially helpful as a bridge from practicing asana to developing a meditation practice, as it can help balance the mind.
However, it can be somewhat tricky to get the hang of without a teacher guiding you. If you're looking for a more in depth tutorial of how and why to practice pranayama, you can watch our free workshop, Breath Support for Changing Times.
Deep rest can be elusive. As we move away from the busyness of the summer months, there is a natural transition into restfulness. All things in nature prepare for the hibernation of the long winter nights ahead.
But as plugged in as we are these days, getting good sleep can be difficult. Yoga Nidra, which means Yogic Sleep, is the practice of rest. It can teach our systems how to unwind from the day and prepare for sleep.
Yoga Nidra is an important tool we use at the end of every yoga class, but it can also be practiced on its own. Here, I offer you a half-hour of blissful guided relaxation to prepare you for better sleep.
I recommend that you use this recording at the end of every workday, as a way to transition to the restful time you dedicate to yourself at the end of the day. Sunset is a powerful time to practice yoga, according to Ayurveda (Yoga’s sister science), and can align your body and mind with the peaceful energy that night brings.
However, you can also use this recording just before bed, to prepare yourself for better sleep. In that case, rather than following the prompts at the end of the Yoga Nidra practice to gradually bring yourself to a seated position, stay lying down and just drift off into a blissful slumber.
Want to learn how to relax even more? Join us for yoga in the evenings - online or in person - and learn how regular practice can improve the quality of your sleep.
Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
We’ve been preparing to switch from the scheduling software we’ve been using since opening to a new one, called Ribbon. Switching to Ribbon is going to allow us to make things even more user friendly for our students, as well as create new, exciting features.
Starting with this one! We now have a brand new On-Demand Yoga Class page. Use your existing unlimited pass to watch as many on-demand classes as you want on "Yogaflix" or rent them separately.
(Do you have a pass or credits on your account? You should have already received an email about signing into your new account on Ribbon. Please let us know if you did not receive one.)
We’ve been working on these changes for over a month to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible. Even so, a big change like this may temporarily create some turbulence.
Honestly, at the beginning of the process, I felt quite overwhelmed. There were so many things to do: set up classes and passes, upload our on-demand videos, update the plugins on our website, and transfer our students’ accounts.
It was good to be reminded of this month’s theme, which is flow. As easy as the living can be in the summer, sometimes we pack our days with so many plans and goals and activities. It’s helpful to remember to flow peacefully throughout, like the ripples on our beautiful lake.
How you do the little things is how you do everything.
- Sharon Pearson
In the YSC Part 2 training last month, Renata (Sonia Sumar’s daughter) was breaking down the pose Yoga Nidrasana to our class one morning.
This pose requires a fine balance of flexibility and strength: open hips and shoulders, flexible spine, and a strong core. She was asking us to slow down and do the pose step-by-step.
You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.
- William Faulkner
There has always been some debate about the role of a spiritual seeker. Many have misidentified calmness as stillness, apathy, or ineffectiveness.
To one not experienced with meditation, mindfulness, and the spiritual path, it may seem like we spend an awful lot of time sitting with our eyes closed, lying on the floor, and/or considering rather than doing. But we know that behind what seems to be a lack of movement is actually an incredible process of evolution.
I’ve heard this described like the appearance of a top. When the top is spun correctly, it seems motionless, even though it is spinning rapidly. This is the behavior of a spiritual seeker as well. Behind the calm is an active, dynamic change-maker.
This is easily observed in a hatha yoga class. When we hold a pose, from the outside it seems like we are still. But internally, we are making minute adjustments to our skeleton, muscles, connective tissues, breathing, and even our mind, in order to hold the pose with steadiness and ease.
This month is both the celebration of the sun at its peak in the northern hemisphere and International Day of Yoga. These two events go together hand in hand. On the day that the sun is most dynamic, we celebrate the power of yoga to transform.
What better way to invoke the power of dynamism this month than by practicing a sun salutation, or Surya Namaskar? Sun salutations are the basis of many styles of yoga and are endlessly adaptable.
Truth is one; paths are many.
- Sri Swami Satchidananda
What kind of yoga do you practice? For those who don’t practice yoga or dabble in it only once in a while, this is a logical question.
Outwardly, it seems like there are different types of yoga. Hatha, vinyasa, and ashtanga are some of the different types of yoga, right? (What’s the difference?)
If you’re just getting started in exploring yoga, congratulations and welcome! You might want to look at this infographic to get a sense of what kind of practices are included in the Integral Yoga tradition, which is the tradition Rita (my co-director) and I follow.
When I talk with committed students of yoga (and wow, have we been having some interesting discussions in our Yoga Sutras study group this past month!), there’s often a sense of understanding between us. “You know what yoga really is. You feel it.”
Because yoga is not entirely logical. Yes, you can apply logic to yoga to deduce how yoga consistently produces its effects when practiced for a long time, with one’s whole heart, and without break.
But that is only one side of yoga - the “science side” if you will - the what and how. There is also the art of yoga and that you can only feel. The art of yoga answers why we practice yoga.
A SIMPLE YOGA SEQUENCE FOR BEGINNERS
The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.
For January, we focus on the Beginner’s Mind. January is a month when many of us elevate our choices and commit to new ways of being. This is the month when we see New Year’s resolution setters and many beginning yoga students.
We love welcoming some of the newest yogins (yoga practitioners) to the art and science of yoga. Talk to any of our teachers or students and you’ll find we are all eager to share our experience of our developing yoga practice, which I think starts with the community you are in (in Sanskrit, this is called Sangha).
I just love how our regular students embrace new students. This is the kind of studio where you are not anonymous. It takes courage to be seen. But the relationships that have developed within the four walls of 1818 W. Belmont (and even in an online or hybrid format, everyone is still saying hello to one another, sharing their pets, etc.) show how impactful a smile or an encouraging word can be, especially in our darkest hours.
That is what yoga is. Yes, you’re probably going to feel amazing after your first (or millionth) yoga class. Yes, your mind is likely going to feel calmer and your emotions and energy levels more balanced. But this is all in service of turning the positive state of being developed through yoga into blessings for the entire world.
Yoga develops union, not simply between mind-breath-body but between ourselves and the rest of the universe. It helps us feel at home in our bodies and on this planet. Then we become empowered to welcome others into this state of being “at home”.
As much as we love welcoming new yoga practitioners at 5KY, I think it may be a bit of a selfish act, to be honest. Because meeting new students helps remind us of what yoga is like at the very beginning. The transcendence of that first breakthrough.
I remember being very resistant to the idea of practicing yoga before I tried it. I thought it was a bit twee. After an old injury worsened in my foot, I decided I would have to swap the dance classes I was taking in my theater program to a gentler yoga practice.
My first teacher was an alumna of the school, whose physical condition and control over her body amazed and inspired me as a performer. So I set about the practice and discovered that not only did I feel stronger and more capable, I also felt a sense of relaxation and well-being I had only ever felt after exhausting running sessions that were roughing up my foot.
When I left college, I was sold on yoga but still very skeptical about the spiritual aspects of it. I didn’t want to be indoctrinated or chanting for things I didn’t know what they meant. Nevertheless, I was very committed to practicing yoga (though I now understand the only part of yoga I was practicing at the time were asana or yoga poses) a few times a week.
This is the way many of us enter yoga. Fighting and struggling with the physical condition of our bodies (at least, I did). It is natural to start there because the body is the only part of ourselves that is physically tangible. We may feel it is the only thing we actually have control over.
Then I met my spiritual teacher or Guru, Sivakami Sonia Sumar. After surgery on my foot, the financial bottom dropping out in 2008, and a traumatic experience post-college, I was very closed off and defensive. It was like my head was separated from my body, even after practicing yoga consistently with a variety of teachers for two years.
On the very last day of the program I was attending with Sivakami, she asked us to talk about something which we wanted to work on letting go of. Not really knowing why I began to cry after my turn.
For many years when I was a bit younger, I had prided myself on not crying easily. But now, the tears wouldn’t stop. They flooded my eyes through the entire hour and a half long yoga practice, including the 15-minute deep relaxation at the end.
I was terribly embarrassed to have lost control over my emotions during class. So I skipped our first of only two meals at the ashram where I was staying and slept deeply. When I woke up, I felt like I had all this weight lifted off my shoulders.
That afternoon, we were given a puja (which is an act of worship) by a swami from India, all standing around a small Ganesh statue in a grove of palm trees. I thought that this could be my opportunity to start anew. My heart had finally opened.
It was at this point that I decided to have faith in Sivakami and therefore, the methodology of yoga as a complete practice, not just yoga poses. I mean, if she could break down years of walls I’d build up in six days with that stuff, what could she do in six years? What about 60?
This was when I could officially call myself a beginner at yoga because I was finally practicing all the components of yoga with my whole heart. Over my 10+ years studying with Sivakami and at the Integral Yoga Institute to become a Yoga Therapist, my scientific and personal understanding deepened about why these practices (physical, mental, and spiritual) are so beneficial.
This is why the fit of the teacher with the student is paramount. Your teacher is there to inspire you to open your heart and go further into your practice. Otherwise, we’re just spinning our wheels.
Some people are extraordinary and able to do all this without a teacher. They have connected to the Guru within (Guru literally means remover of the darkness: Gu - darkness, Ru - remover) without the help of a Guru in the form of a person.
I think most of us would benefit from a connection to a person who has already walked the path and can give us directions. For some, they can read books and get inspired by the words of Gurus from the past and feel that spark of inspiration. I think I needed a Brazilian woman who could give me a big, Brazilian hug.
So whenever someone tells me they’re a beginning yoga student, I instantly think of this entire story and how I feel now and how yoga has helped me become stronger and more balanced. I think all longtime yogins have a story about their journey practicing yoga.
Your story about why you, as a beginner, are practicing yoga reminds us to approach our own practice with the mind of a beginner. Because the mind of the beginner has no preconceptions and is absorbing so much information, it has to remain in the moment.
For this reason, beginners inspire experienced practitioners as well. We are so excited for you to start your own journey!
But you may be wondering, how do I get started with yoga? After all, there are so many options: different yoga studios, different yoga teachers, different yoga apps.
So I would love to give any beginning yoga students out there a short introduction to a complete hatha yoga practice according to the lineage I am in, which descends from Integral Yoga and the Sivananda tradition of hatha yoga.
This year, we’ll be posting helpful resources on our blog each month, from practice guides on sun salutations, breath work, and meditation, to explanations of why yoga specific practices are beneficial to us.
If you’re looking for more personalized attention from a live instructor, I am also hosting a Yoga for Beginners four-week workshop. I’d love to see you there!
"For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile."
- Elie Weisel
I am writing this in early October but by the time this is published, election day will have come and gone. We may or may not have election results yet. And I’m anticipating that whatever the outcome, this week will be tense and fractious.
How lovely that we have a holiday that reminds us to be thankful later this month. Gratitude is about living in grace. If you navigate over to our About Us page, you’ll see this quote by Swami Satchidananda guides our every decision at 5KY.
The goal of yoga and the birthright of every individual is a body of optimum health and strength, senses under total control, a mind well-disciplined, clear and calm, an intellect as sharp as a razor, a will as strong and pliable as steel, a heart full of unconditional love and compassion, an ego as pure as crystal, and a life filled with Supreme Peace and Joy.
That is grace. Stepping into our natural birthright of calm, strong, and balanced body, mind, and emotions. It isn’t something that we need to do, per se. It is what we are.
Swamiji liked to joke (though there’s always an element of truth in his humor) that his religion wasn’t Hinduism but un-doism. Yoga can help us peel away the layers of our past experience that get in the way of this birthright.
Maybe this sounds really difficult. The idea of having a will that’s as strong and pliable as steel or an ego as pure as crystal can feel very intimidating.
The good news is, yoga teaches that this is our natural state. It’s only the other things that unbalance our equilibrium.
Especially as a "down-to-earth" Midwesterner, it sometimes feels uncomfortable to admit to aiming for a goal so lofty. Like, who do I think I am to believe I have a pure ego?
But this is what I absolutely love about yoga. We don’t have to be or feel a certain way to get in touch with this birthright.
Yes, many of us will never attain enlightenment (at least in this lifetime) and no one is perfect, even those that are enlightened. We are all human. We all make mistakes. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get the benefits of grace in the here and now.
In fact, the very first Sutra in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is translated to “Now the exposition of Yoga is being made.” It indicates that at every moment, we have a choice of whether to practice Yoga. To live our union with ourselves and with all other things.
Because here and now is where we practice. Not in the past and not in the future. Now. At any moment in time, we have the choice to be filled with supreme peace and joy. Nothing external can stop this opportunity, though external things can distract us from it.
As we wrap up this difficult year and hope for a bright 2021, let’s not forget to feel grateful for the beautiful things we have in our lives right now. Let’s live in grace together.
In honor of giving thanks, I would like to leave you with a meal prayer we use in Yoga for the Special Child and Integral Yoga. An audio recording of the meal prayer is also below.
Wishing you a month filled with grace and gratitude!
"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."
- Beverly Sills
I just finished the first 100 hours of my second 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training with Yoga for the Special Child. Many of our students at 5KY love to take classes with us after we’ve attended a teacher training with YSC because we come back filled with new inspiration.
This time is no different, especially because I have not taken this program for a long time. I am uncovering forgotten and incomplete ideas that had surfaced when I took my first teacher training.
This is similar to the way we approach the Yoga Sutras. The Sutras are meant to be read again and again because your understanding of them develops more each time. Life brings pleasures and pains and the meaning of the Sutras becomes clearer as you confront these challenges.
And so although I have read the Sutras and studied with my teacher many times, certain things are becoming clearer to me as I go deeper. As my teacher says very often, “there will be no shortcuts on the path of yoga.” We will need determination and perseverance to reach the goal.
One of the concepts we discussed in the TT was pratipaksa bhavana (pronounced prat-ee-pak-sha bha-va-na). Pratipaksa bhavana literally means manifestation of or meditation upon the opposite thought. The Sutra this is introduced in (2.33) says that when we are “disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of.”
We have the power to change our own mind and control which thoughts we allow to enter.
This is a very powerful Sutra and concept, as it indicates we have the power to change our own mind and control which thoughts we allow to enter. What is the virtue we need to develop to practice pratipaksa bhavana? Determination.
One of the participants in the teacher training mentioned that this Sutra comes within the group of Sutras discussing the Yamas and Niyamas (the “dos and don’ts” of Raja Yoga). She drew a relationship between pratipaksa bhavana and the first two limbs of Raja Yoga that I had never noticed before.
She suggested that when we fall short of our goals - to live righteously and love unconditionally - it is not helpful to dwell in bad feelings about our misapplication of these principles into our life. Sutra 2.33 is placed within the discussion of the Yamas and Niyamas to remind us of a tool we can cultivate when faced with disappointment in our own behavior.
Say I have violent thoughts or said violent words (lack of ahimsa), lie to someone (lack of satya), take credit for something that isn’t mine (lack of asteya), overeat (lack of brahmacarya), or hang onto a situation that isn’t good for me (lack of aparigraha). In other words, if I fail to practice the Yamas.
Or maybe I have trouble keeping my space clean (lack of saucha), feel discontent about life’s circumstances (lack of santosha), lash out when hurt (lack of tapah), don’t make time for self-improvement (lack of svadhyaya), or can’t let go of control (lack of Ishvara pranidhana). And I fail to practice the Niyamas.
Instead of thinking “wow, I’m a really violent, lying, thieving, gluttonous, greedy person. I can’t believe I’m so impure, malcontent, reactive, lazy, and controlling,” we should think opposite, positive thoughts instead.
Our mind and therefore, our character is made up of these tendencies.
When we dwell in these negative thoughts, we only increase our tendency to express them. Our mind and therefore, our character is made up of these tendencies. So we have the power to change them by our will and determination.
So instead, when we fail to meet our goal, let’s think things like “I am trying. Look! I just noticed that I wasn’t following the Yamas and Niyamas. That is really hard to do. I must be making progress. Next time I will do even better. I am proud that I’m trying to make positive changes in my mind and my life.”
Eventually, you might try challenging yourself to think, “What?! That’s not true. I may have slipped up this time but I’m doing my best. I really am a peaceful, truthful, respectful, moderate, and generous person. I am pure, content, accepting, thoughtful, and surrender myself to my place in the universe. I’m going to keep learning, applying, and refining my understanding of these universal principles to get better and better every day.”
I will offer one more piece of advice from my incredible teacher, Sonia Sumar. She suggested that if we are confronted by a negative thought (and let’s get real, we all have intrusive thoughts sometimes) to “sit it down” in front of you and have a conversation with it.
Question it. “Where do you come from? Why do you always come up in this situation? Why do I feel this way when so-and-so does that? Why have I not resolved these feelings yet?” (Notice that all of these questions are about myself and not "the other.") It’s not psychoanalysis we’re doing. We are letting these thoughts come to the surface to let them go through our yoga and meditation practice.
Once we have an idea of where these thoughts come from, it’s so much easier to figure out what the opposite, positive thought is. Then, we just work on affirming the positive ones and letting go of the negative ones.
That is the real work of determination. It is not stuffing challenging thoughts down or hiding them from ourselves. It is allowing challenges to surface and then having the guts to confront and transform them.
With everything we are facing right now, transforming the challenges in front of us is absolutely essential. This is how our yoga moves off our mat and into the world.
Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...
FIVE KEYS YOGA
WHAT OUR CLIENTS SAY
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I've ... probably been to 25 different yoga studios. This is one of the most welcoming, calming spaces with very talented instructors.
I love this yoga studio. It's a great balance of a good workout and relaxation and feels like a real community.
An ideal studio for someone new to yoga.