This is the first in a series of posts about the 8 Limbs of Yoga and how they can apply to your life. The 8 Limbs of Yoga as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras are a kind of roadmap to help your yoga practice extend out far past the physical benefits into a way of living that can bring peace and harmony to all of your relationships and in any circumstance.
The Steps on the Path
Yamas - Non-violence, Truthfulness, Non-stealing, Non-excess, and Non-possesiveness
Niyamas - Purity, Contentment, Self-Discipline, Self-Study, and Surrender
Asanas - Physical postures
Pranayama - Breathing practices
Pratyahara - Control of the senses
Dharana - Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
Dhyana - Meditation
Samadhi - Freedom, peace, connection with the Divine
In this series of posts I’ll break each of these down and describe what they have to do with your life. I’ll help you apply these yoga and mindset tools so that you can find a greater sense of acceptance and harmony in all of your relationships and experiences.
This path is to be well worn, and travelled back and forth upon, it’s not a one-way or once in a lifetime trip. It’s a commitment to take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings and to let go of any responsibility for the thoughts and feelings of others.
It’s a process of using various tools to consistently check in with your thoughts, your feelings and the results you're getting in your life to find peace and contentment along your way.
The first of the 8 limbs of yoga are the Yamas. Kind of the do’s and don’ts. In Sanskrit, the ancient language of yoga, Yamas means “restraints”.
The Yamas are a series of guidelines, or ethical principles to follow. They apply to how we treat ourselves and how we treat others and are not unique to yoga philosophy, most of us learned these when we were little kids.
As we explore these principles through the lens of yoga we will look at the more subtle examples of how we may not be following these guidelines for ourselves and others.
There are 5 Yamas: Non-violence, Truthfulness, Non-stealing, Non-excess, and Non-possesiveness
The first and probably most important - certainly the most all-encompassing - is Non-violence, or in Sanskrit - Ahimsa
Nonviolence - Ahimsa
Do no harm, that’s pretty basic, the big, obvious violence against ourselves and others isn’t really what we’re talking about here. I mean it is, but for most of us, don’t kill, don’t punch people, use good manners, be nice. These are pretty easy to grasp. Well-mannered adults don’t usually go out of our way to hurt others.
What I’d like to address here are the more subtle ways that you may be harming yourself or others. Some of these you may not even notice that you’re doing, you may have done them or have had them done to you your whole life.
Have you ever thought of any of these as being violent?
Always being in a hurry
Being anxious or afraid
Over-Scheduling ourselves or our families
Needing to be in control
Having poor boundaries
How are these violent?
We’re going to explore how in just a second, but I’d like you to really consider the idea that each of these behaviors come from a place of fear and lack. Stop for a second and really think about that.
Violence comes from Fear of not having enough or not being enough.
Always being in a hurry - fear of not having time to do what matters
Being anxious or afraid - fear of not having your basic needs met
Negative self-talk - fear that you’re not good enough
Angry outbursts - fear that others won’t be there for us
Worrying - fear that the people we love aren’t capable of handling their own challenges
Over-Scheduling ourselves or our families - fear of missing out on something important
Needing to be in control - fear that others aren’t capable of accomplishing tasks
Feeling powerless - fear that you are stuck
Having poor boundaries - fear that someone will not love you if you enforce them
Feeling insecure - fear that you are not enough
Greed - fear that you won’t have enough
Fear creates violence. It’s your basic primitive nature to protect yourself from danger. So if your brain is afraid that your safety and security is being threatened, it will work to protect you at all costs. Even if the threat is only in your head, or if the threat is only that someone will think you're a terrible housekeeper, or that your kid isn’t the best player on the team.
Your brain - when it’s acting on instinct - is too efficient to stop and ponder whether or not the threat is real or perceived, so it just reacts. And the reaction is fight or flight. And fight is violence.
The answer to fear is Courage. Courage is not the lack of fear, it’s being afraid and doing it anyway. It’s a choice to overcome fear with strength.
When you have to courage to really examine what you’re afraid of, to break it down into its most basic components, and look it in the face, you realize that fear itself can’t hurt you. Fear is just an unwillingness to experience a difficult emotion. If you stare down the emotion you don’t want to feel, you’ll realize that it’s just a feeling.
Every time you look at that emotion and allow yourself to feel it, in all it’s uncomfortableness, you realize that you can survive that discomfort. And each time you feel it, it’s a little less intense. And then you realize how strong you are and that no feeling can hurt you unless you allow it to.
You go forward with the knowledge that you can do hard things and that knowledge gives you the courage to overcome any obstacles.
So how do you find that courage? It starts with really looking deep into what you’re afraid of. Look at the behaviors that keep you from feelings peaceful and balanced and examine what’s at the root.
What are you really afraid of? Let’s dig a little deeper.
Do you always have to be in control?
What this really means is “I don’t trust others” When you insist on control or having things done your way, you are hurting the other person by taking away their autonomy to solve a problem and overcome a challenge.
It also comes from a selfish place, even arrogance. Thinking that your way is the only way. This often stems from our own insecurities. When you’re able to accept your own imperfections and limitations and recognize that they don’t diminish you, then you can begin to accept the imperfections and limitations of others.
Are you a worrier?
Worry is fear disguised as caring. It comes from lack of trust in the ability of our loved ones to manage their own difficulties. It’s often confused with support or concern, but worry does not support and encourage and trust. Worry says, you can’t handle this.
Do you feel powerless and stuck?
You have more power than you let yourself believe. Question the idea that you don’t have a choice, our that you don’t have any other option. Imagine all of the things you feel obligated to do in your life, all of the commitments and responsibilities that you dread or that don’t light you up.
What would happen if you set boundaries and decided not to do them? Would people be disappointed or angry? Maybe. But you are not responsible for their thoughts or feelings. You almost always have a choice. The consequences may be uncomfortable, but you do have a choice.
How do you summon the courage to make difficult choices and trust in the unknown?
It starts with finding balance in your life. The strength to be truly courageous can only be found when you’re being the best version of yourself.
Lots of things can throw you out of balance: Not getting enough sleep, too much sugar, too much alcohol, over scheduling ourselves and our families, spending too much time mindlessly scrolling, all of these things are a subtle form of violence to yourself.
When you push yourself too hard, and set unreasonable expectations you are doing violence to yourself. When you stop listening to your body and give it too much or not enough exercise, and don’t feed it properly, you are not practicing nonviolence.
So how do you find balance?
It’s different for everyone, and different in different phases of your life, and you can only find it by slowing down and getting quiet and listening to the wisdom of your inner voice to tell you.
Your body needs rest, and so does your mind, and your soul. You need to create less clutter in your life, and in your mind, to create more space, more openness, more time to imagine and reflect.
Your capacity to truly do no harm to others is directly related to your ability to do no harm to yourself. You can’t always give to others, you have to also be willing to give to yourself and allow others to give to you.
When you don’t accept your own limitations, and recognize when you are out of balance yourself, you may harm others by always trying to “fix” them. You self-sacrifice and do too much for others in order to hide your own sense of failure or to try and prove your value and worth. What seems like a selfless attempt to help others is actually harmful and controlling, and is coming from your own fears and insecurities and lack of faith in others.
Ahimsa or Non-violence is trusting that the people you want to help can and will solve their own problems, and find their own answers. Their lives are their own set of experiences and circumstances, and they are different from yours. When you free them from your expectations for them then they can find their own path and your job is to have faith and trust that they will make the choices that best serve them and those they love.
When we try to fix people or save them, we are falsely lifting up ourselves, feeding our ego instead of dealing with our own issues, and we take away the opportunity for them to be the best version of themselves.
Growth come from challenges and if we take all challenges away we stunt their growth. Our job is to be there for them, to love them through their struggles and let them know that they are complete and whole just as they are.
This requires compassion.
Compassion allows you to let go of your version of the right way and allow others to find their own way. It means that others lives and choices are just as important as your own. It makes you accepting and unafraid of any reality. You are practicing compassion when you accept yourself as you are and when you let other people be who they are.
If any of this resonates with you, and you’d like to dive a little deeper into exploring your own fears, I would love to work with you. To share these tools so that you have them in your back pocket anytime you need them to restore balance to your life.
In my life, these practices have changed how I see myself, who I spend my time with, and have helped me find my true calling and purpose. To live the life God created me to live. I want that sense of clarity and peace for you.
Let’s talk and see if Yoga and Wellness coaching is for you. And if it’s not, that's ok too. You get to make that choice. And I’ll support you making it! You can book a Free Consultation call with me Here. I can’t wait to hear from you.
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