The Healing Relationship

So recently I’ve started to experience some really intense back pain. Between 4-6am every morning I am awoken by intense muscle spasms on the right side of spine, mid-back. It’s excruciating. I can barely move when it happens. My breathing is limited. Certain movements made it worse and finding relief usually involved taking a hot bath. Yesterday my sister who is a registered massage therapist identified the issue as facet joint irritation, she did some manual mobilization of my vertebrae and told me to get to my chiropractor asap.  

Since I’ve been experiencing this for a couple weeks now, I’ve also really started to pay attention to patterns…. What makes it better? what makes it worse? and explore different movements to relieve some of the tension and keep the area mobile. Since I have a well stocked yoga therapy tool kit, I’ve been managing and finding ways that the early morning wake up won’t last too long so I can go back to bed and feel rested for the day.

Last week I also started working with a woman who is doing her yoga therapy practicum. Not only am I a good case study for her, it’s really nice to be in a therapeutic relationship with someone guiding me. Working with someone eases fears, helps manage expectations and provides some novel experiences that aid the healing process. Sure I can do it on my own, but I’ve noticed that my experience of movement, breath and relaxation is heighted when someone else is assisting me. I am able to relax a little bit more deeply and heighten my awareness of what’s going on in my body and mind. I have a tendency to do things a little quicker than is necessary, and working with someone else supports my desire to go slow, to take my time, to notice, to feel and to deeply rest. 

I think now, more than ever, being a therapeutic healing relationship with someone is crucial. We are already suffering from physical isolation and touch which can exacerbate any new or existing conditions.  

If you are experiencing chronic/persistent pain, find someone who can help you navigate through it. Pain can change. We are not solitary individuals meant to go it alone. There are tons of healers out there waiting to help. 

Slow

This is my word for 2021. I need slow after the shit show of 2020. When lockdown started in March it was a rush to transition to teaching online. Then when we decided to move it felt like a constant rush during renovations. Now we are moved in and I can start thinking about work again. My pattern would be to rush to start a new programming in my community. With the limitations to movement, space and communication, I have to remind myself that it’s not a race, there is no rush, I have nothing to prove and I can pace myself in my endeavours to create.

For me, slow also manifests, not just as speed, but as an opportunity to take care. Taking time to thoughtfully respond, to plan, to set boundaries and re-assess expectations. Slow means not requiring to take immediate action but smaller, baby steps over a longer period of time. It means eating well, being gentle and kind, doing gentle yoga, going for walks, taking baths, reading books, connecting with friends – in short, taking care of myself in ways that charge my batteries, that fill my cup. So, while slow still requires a lot of doing, it is the quality of doing that is different. It feels more sustainable and more easeful. 

My slow might involve stepping back from yoga therapy a little bit and explore some supply teaching at the local school or getting a part-time job. I’m not sure yet. 

What I do know for sure is that I am still offering a couple evening group yoga classes, limited private session and monthly Restorative Yoga & Soundbath classes with Nicole. 
What I’ve learned from the lockdown so far
Having space limited and social gatherings restricted has taken a big toll both emotionally and physically on me. One effects the other. 

I have maintained a couple clients over the last 8 months and we have addressed chronic pain issues and burnout. I love this work. I love facilitating experiences where folx get to experience their life in a whole new way that guides them out of what ails them. 

I appreciate conversation. 

Shitty things and good things can happen simultaneously. 

Everything is temporary. 

Everything is temporary.

I want to work with individuals who are unsatisfied with how they feel emotionally, physically, spiritually. Who feel stuck. Who feel burnt out. Who are in pain. Who want to feel better. 

Healing is not linear. We experience some progress, we might stall or get stuck or have a set back, but it doesn’t mean all is lost. While I think this year is going to be similar to last year in terms of restrictions, there is a new optimism and better understanding of how to navigate. There will be progress and there will be setbacks.  Let’s come out of this pandemic better than we were before.

For more information on how you can work with me contact me here.

On Love, Perspective and Rest

It’s hard to believe it’s almost the middle of February already. Valentines Day and Family Day are coming up this weekend so your mind is likely thinking about the other people people in your life and you’re not thinking about yourself. That’s okay. The people in our life are super important but keep reading because I have message for you…

I spent the last two weeks in Calgary for in-person yoga therapy training and I wanted to share a few gems with you. As soon as I got home I saw this image on Instagram and I felt like it epitomizes a few themes from my training. We often limit ourselves and get comfortable in the little box we build around ourselves that we identify with as “I” or “me”. As such we miss opportunities all around us or limit ourselves because we have one way of thinking or deeply ingrained beliefs that we aren’t even aware of. When we can start to consciously explore using different lenses or taking different perspectives for how we perceive; our world, our toolbox and our opportunities get bigger and more expansive. Yoga Nidra (a process of meditative self-inquiry) teaches us that feelings and emotions exist on a spectrum. We can explore them from this perspective so we can embody the experience of a range of possibilities. It’s amazing how one small shift can create huge change. (If you’re interested in experiencing Yoga Nidra, come to one of my group classes or book a private session).

My message for you…

Winter is a season for rest. When you are feeling tired, anxious or stressed, or constantly getting a cold, consider from the perspective of your body, that it’s asking you to rest. Take a nap, go for an easy walk, try some gentle movements that feel nourishing and supportive, and go to bed early. It’s okay to say no to that invitation from your colleagues or friends or family if your schedule is already crammed packed. It’s okay, and necessary, to slow down and take care of YOU! When we really take good care of ourselves, we have so much more to give to our families and our work. When considering when and how you rest think about which type of person you are: Person A: you need to move (exercise) a lot before you can start to wind down and actually rest. Or Person B: you need to rest and relax yourself to replenish your energy reserves before you even consider being active. Whether you are person A or B or somewhere in between, let your needs guide you on how you create rest.

If you need some more ideas on how to support yourself to feel rested and relaxed I’d be happy to chat!

My 10 Year Yoga Anniversary

 

The past 10 years of my yoga journey has had a lot of up downs and learning experiences. I started practicing yoga in Hong Kong when I worked there as a teacher at an International School. I got into teaching Kids Yoga to my students while I was there then upgraded to 200 hr Yoga Teacher Training when I moved back to Canada. As a private and corporate yoga teacher I noticed many of my students were limited by pain due to repetitive stress or a health diagnosis. Unequipped with the appropriate skills to help them I started learning yoga therapy, which not only got me out of pain from a previous car accident, it also helped my students get out of pain. Now in private practice as yoga therapist and approaching my 10th Yoga Anniversary, I reflected back on what has happened during that time. My reflections showed up as ways I have changed or evolved and lessons I have learned along the way. Here are my top 10 lists for my last 10 years.

 

My Top 10 lessons learned

  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  2. Yoga processes don’t change who you are – you get clearer on who you are – you change how you are. I used to think a long pilgrimage or seeking spiritual enlightenment was going to provide the answers I was seeking. No matter where we are in the journey, we are always going to have troubles and how we show up with the problems as they arise is the testament of transformation. True change and transformation happens bit by bit, by taking incremental baby steps over time.
  3. Advanced yoga is not crazy, contoronist postures. Advanced yoga is the willingness and ability to do as little as possible, keep coming back to the basics and learning something new about yourself. We have a tendency to work too hard in yoga classes. Slowing down and cultivating a sense of ease is necessary for healing to happen.
  4. Relaxing and letting go is not a thing that you do.  Relaxation and letting go is the result of slowing down and cultivating ease. The better we feel, the easier it is to let go of things or people that make us feel crappy.
  5. In any aspect of life, if you want a different outcome, something has to change – you might have to do something differently or see things from a different perspective.
  6. Sometimes what you are attracted to is not what you need, sometimes it is. Being able to discern is a process. Mindfulness practices can help us grow our awareness and presence moment to moment.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make requests. Advocate for what you need.
  8. When you learn how your body is meant to move and move in a way that doesn’t increase tension, strain or pain, progress is going to be a lot faster and meaningful.
  9. The more we can feel, the more we will become aware and the better we can listen to our bodies signals communicating with us. This means more opportunities for us to choose how we respond to those signals. With practice we can start to discern how our body is constantly communicating with us right down to the subtle, nuanced whispers.
  10. Taking time for self-care and making it part of your daily life is the single most important thing you can do. You deserve to proactively take care of your health.

Top 10 Ways I have Evolved

  1. Asana – For me it started off being all about the yoga poses. The poses were the thing to strive towards for a long time, until I realized that they weren’t the thing – the movement piece became a catalyst for everything else.
  2. Resilience – I am resilient AF. I’ve come to a point in my life where I can look back at the challenges and take lessons from all of it. I now appreciate and look forward to change. I embrace challenge.
  3. Awareness – I’ve become very aware of all the things I was tolerating. Releasing the stuff and people that I no longer want to tolerate has given me much more freedom to notice other stuff  that matters.
  4. Grounded – People often describe me as being very grounded and confident.  I use to feel untethered, all. the. time. My mind kept me awake at night. I worried. I was stressed. I was anxious. I was angry, easily irritated, frustrated. Dedication to my yoga practices and routines  helped me release all of these things and I now have the skills to manage them when they do show up.
  5. Gratitude – Learning how to practice gratitude on a daily basis was another catalyst for change. It made me more resilient, more aware, kinder, more compassionate, more grounded and happier.
  6. Health – I have far fewer colds, less aches and pains, I sleep better, have more energy, and am physically stronger and have better movement patterns and a greater awareness of what is related to not feeling well.
  7. Priorities – Self-care has become a priority. If I’m not healthy and am feeling over stressed then what’s the point? I’ve learned how to create a self-care lifestyle and set healthy boundaries with work and not feel guilty about it
  8. Presence – I engage in a lot of introspection, personal reflection and contemplation. I am getting better and better at being in the moment. Meditation and mindfulness helps.  Listening to the language of my body (mindfulness) – noticing the physiological sensations, mental chatter, emotional responses, etc inform my decisions and interactions.
  9. Values – Recently I’ve been focusing more of my attention on my values. They evolve and change over time. What was important to me in my mid-twenties, is not the same as in my mid-thirties. There is also a difference between the values I aspire to and the values I actually live, those which are demonstrated through my actions and behaviour. I’ve also noticed that my values might not always be completely mine. Part of my values are created in my relationships with others. “I am because we are.” – African proverb.
  10. Seeking Support – I used to think I had to and could do it all on my own. Migraines forced me to seek medical help and I’ve since realized in other areas of my life  that I can’t do it all on my own either. There is no shame in asking for help or support. Working with my own yoga therapist was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Support is necessary. Seeking support is  an act of self-love – something we need to give ourselves more of.

No matter who you are, we all have a deep need for support. Ask for it. Don’t be afraid to seek it out. Know that I’m here to support you too. If you feel like you need some support to come up with a self-care plan that is appropriate for your life I’d be really happy to chat with you.

What I Learned from my Digestive Reset

Last year I did my first Digestive Reset. The purpose is to promote health by helping us align with nature’s rhythms. In the Fall our nervous system and digestive systems are more sensitive to stress. This also effects our immune system, given that it activates during times of stress to protect us. This digestive reset helps us to prepare, balance and align with the changes in the qualities from summer to fall.  The nitty gritty involved a process of eliminating some stuff from my diet (I chose things like gluten, black tea, sugar, chocolate and red meat) and adding some self-care practices like body oiling, tongue scraping, neti, daily meditation,  yoga, alternate nostril breathing along with a mono-diet that involved eating Kitchari for breakfast, lunch and dinner and eliminating snacking. Since it was the first time there was definitely a learning curve with some of the spices and getting the right texture for the mung beans and rice.  The self-care practice was easy peasy compared to the diet portion. Caffeine and sugar withdrawal are definitely brutal for the first couple days.  Eating the same thing everyday was torture after the 2nd or 3rd day. I admit I had to cheat a little bit just to have some variety while still trying to stick to an Ayurvedic diet. Like a recurring injury that arises because of a physically weak spot in our bodies, I started to notice the  weaknesses in my mind and the stories I’d tell myself about my perceived struggle. You definitely start to learn some lessons about your relationship to food and perceived hunger. I say “perceived” hunger because those feelings of hunger are usually because something else is going on (thirst, boredom, stress).  Despite the struggles I ended up feeling better because of it. All abdominal bloating from my previous eating habits had disappeared and I discovered to my pleasure that I actually have a nice flat belly! Who knew! Energy was up and consistent. I was sleeping great and aches and pains settled out. 

My experience this year, while similar has a greater sense of ease to the whole process. This year I experienced a headache interspersed with migraines for the first 6 days and then I felt great after. Unlike last year, I mastered my Kitchari making skills and it wasn’t hard to stick to the mono-diet. Like anything, a little bit of planning and intention setting can do wonders. I was also much better able to listen to the signals my body was providing and the struggle was much, much less. Sticking with my meditation practice felt easier and I could sit for longer. As an added bonus I even lost some weight without restricting food and feeling hungry.

This year I started my second Fall Digestive Reset after Thanksgiving  (they are done during seasonal transitions going into Fall and Spring). It was 10 days (the spring one is a month). This what I learned for myself:

  1. Abdominal discomfort and bloating are definitely diet related.
  2. Our bodies are masters at adapting to what we put it in. The withdrawal symptoms are clear signals of what I was putting in was keeping me limited and creating cravings.
  3. Eating wholesome, nutritious food, regularly at meal times cuts down on the desire to snack and decreased cravings.
  4. Feeling hungry and going to the grocery store with my husband shed light on all kinds of food cravings that I probably would have given into otherwise. Shop when satiated. Make healthy choices.
  5. If you can get through the headaches and irritation you are going to feel light, clean and energized after. I feel less desire to jump back into old eating habits. (although as my load increased babysit my niece and nephew so did my old eating habits. A curious correlation between stress and food…)
  6. The second time around was much easier than last year.
  7. My gut doesn’t like milk and caffeine makes me more tired and foggy. I kinda already knew this but now definitely confirmed.

This spring I will participate in a month long digestive reset as a part of my yoga therapy training program. If you are interested in learning more visit my Ayurvedic teacher Mona Warner at Janati Yoga.

 

3 Techniques to Cultivate More Ease and Manage Stress

This past week I gave a 10 minute presentation on stress management to my fellow networking colleagues. It’s so secret that stress can be debilitating and lead to burnout. In 2010, Stats Canada found that 1 in 4 people say they are effected by stress and 60% of those are work related stress. Burnout is highly prevalent amongst teachers, doctors and executives. So essentially the message is this, if you want a different outcome (less stress or at least be able to be in a stressful situation with more ease) then something needs to change. I think it is clear that we can’t expect a different outcome if we don’t change our behaviour. It may be impossible to eliminate all stress from our lives and yet we can do small things with consistency to cultivate more ease. Imagine what your life would be like if you had even just 10% more ease!

First, ease comes in bits and pieces. This arises from precision and consistency in what we do. In other words, slow and steady wins the race. Creating more ease also requires us to become aware of the signs and signals that preceed stress. Once we become aware of what these are, then we are able to intervene sooner and be with that inevitable stress in a different way.

Whether we are recovering from pain or managing stress we know that healing is non-linear. And I think this is where people often get stuck. If you have “set back” or a flare up of symptoms, it doesn’t mean that that the techniques didn’t work. It just means that you don’t have a lot of bandwidth or stamina around that new pattern yet. Neuroscience confirms that our brains and systems are bioplastic. This means we are continually making new neural connections in brain to support new learning. Learning takes time and practice, so in order to groove out a new pattern in our system we need to practice with consistency and awareness. So, back to my point, we make the mistake of thinking we are going back to what we had before stress or the injury or the pain. When in fact, we are actually getting better than we were before. There is a memory or imprint in your system so you don’t have to lose what you gained. I think this is really awesome.

To demonstrate how we can cultivate more ease and groove out a pattern that helps us be with stress in a new way that is more supportive I had my networking team try three techniques that they can practice anytime, anywhere. In the first exercise, participants closed their eyes and brought their index fingers together. I guided them to notice where their attention was at that moment, then again a moment later, and so on for about a minute. What people noticed was that they were no longer thinking about things in the past or the future. They were focused on body sensations in the present moment. They noticed their mind was not racing and thinking of a hundred different things, they felt more present to the moment. Further reflections someone noticed how “busy” their life had become and no longer had time for activities they enjoyed. This realization sparks an opportunity to think about what they will do with that awareness.

The second technique was Alternate Nostril breathing – this can be found online in a quick Google search or try this: block your right nostril with one finger and inhale through the left, block the left nostril and exhale out the right. Inhale right, block the right and exhale out the left. That’s one round. Repeat 4 more times. For limitations of time we started with 5 rounds and then noticed how that experience made them feel. Experiences of calm, peacefulness, cleared breathing, increased focus and feeling both more relaxed and energized came up as results.

The third technique I shared was a short Body Scan. I had participants close their eyes, notice sensation in the palm of their right hand, then each finger. I repeated with the left hand, then each foot, and sensations in the face including the jaw, mouth, nose, eyes and forehead. (message me for a free 5 minute recording you can follow along to).  Simply by paying attention to bodily sensations tension starts to melt away. It is also a great way to start to learn the language of your body. If you’re not used to feeling sensation or the physiological sensations in the body as you experience the full range of emotions and life experiences that you have, then this is a good technique to help you become more familiar with yourself.

Now I need to add a disclaimer. These techniques, like anything else, are not a one size fits all. Depending on your health conditions and life experiences, any of these practices might increase feelings of stress or anxiety and should be at least initially be practiced with an experienced yoga therapist or health care provider. The moral of the story is that stress doesn’t have to be in control. Remember, ease comes in bits and pieces and baby steps will take you there. Ease begets more ease. If you have any questions or you are ready to start your own stress reduction program don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Cozy Up With Ashawaganda Hot Chocolate

As we head into Fall and add on the layers to keep warm, we can cozy up with our loved ones over this nourishing variation of hot chocolate. In a previous post I talked about reducing qualities that leave us feeling untethered or ungrounded, cold and light and nature the opposite qualities such as heavy, warm and stable.. We want to decrease the stimulants like alcohol and caffeine and increase adaptogens like tulsi and ashwaganda. This root is sometimes known as Indian ginseng and is used for its restorative benefits, strengthening the immune system and apparently supporting sexual potency! Ashwaganada has a strong heating quality making it perfect for cold weather. I found it at my local Bulk Barn if you’re wondering where you can buy it.

ASHWAGANDHA HOT CHOCOLATE

This recipe was shared with me from my Ayurvedic teacher Mona Warner… It’s so yummy!

Ingredients: (makes 2 servings)

  • 1 tsp of ashwagandha
  • 1 tbsp raw cacao powder (I use 2 tbsp…  I love chocolate)
  • 2 cups milk
  • Maple syrup (or your sweetener of preference) to sweeten

Mix all the ingredients in a small sauce pan. Warm on medium and whisk to dissolve the powders into the milk. No need to boil.

When lightly steaming, remove from heat and put in 2 cups or if you’re like me, 1 big mug. I also like to add a cinnamon stick and freshly grated nutmeg to garnish cause I’m fancy like that. Enjoy!

Transitioning into Fall

As we begin to transition from Summer to Fall I bet you start to notice little differences in your life. You might feel colder, your skin might get dry, or maybe you feel like have more to do and take on in your life. You might notice other changes like the amount of sunlight and the slightly earthy smell of Autumn.  For me, I feel an increase in stress, my mood starts to shift, I feel I need to eat differently and bundle up on cool days. I see a lot of people coming down with colds and busier  schedules with school and work adds on stress.

The more we can begin to listen to and hear the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) signals our body is telling us, we can choose to make choices that better support us and nourish us through times of transition. That might mean being consistent with your exercise routine, changing something in your diet, going to bed early and getting enough rest or finding the right teacher to guide you.

In Ayurveda the Fall is Vata season which is governed by qualities (gunas) that are dry, light, cold, rough, mobile, subtle and clear. These qualities show up in our environment, physical body, thoughts, behaviours, etc. You might experience cold as having cold hands and feet. Or rough might show up as dry, flakey skin. Mobile might show up in scattered thoughts and not being able to settle down in the evenings. When we feel balanced we embody qualities that are stable, warm, calm, grounded, soothed, nourished, peaceful and slow. Notice these qualities are the opposite of the first set.

To find a balance you don’t want more of the same. For example, if you feel cold, drinking a glass of ice cold water won’t feel nourishing. You would choose a hot tea perhaps instead or put on a pair of wooly socks. In yoga we might explore slower movement and grounding asanas like “cat/cow” and “legs up the wall” to cultivate feelings of stable and groundedness. Soft, gentle breathing or alternate nostril breathing will help calm the body and mind. Meditation and Yoga Nidra are also useful for balancing nervous and anxious (mobile) energy and generate a felt sense of peace.

Small changes can have profound effects on how you feel and how you are with a situation (like a confrontation at work). I have a tendency to have a rough/mobile mind and emotions. For me, mobility shows up as a busy mind, restlessness, anxiety, and feeling stuck in a rut. This triggers the rougher qualities like anger and irritation. The other day I was conversing with someone via e-mail and I noticed a flare of up irritation and then anger over what ended up being a misunderstanding. This was a signal for me that I was out of balance and I needed to switch gears and sit in meditation for while.  The point is, if you don’t like how you feel or how you are acting/reacting to a situation – you have the power to change it. Do something different in order to get a different outcome. If you can identify a quality of what it is you want to change, consider what the opposite quality is and see if you can play with that.

If you are interested in learning more about these qualities and how you can bring more balance to your life, let’s chat! I love yoga therapy because we can impact the body, mind, emotions and spirit through movement, breath, meditation and developing a deeper awareness of yoga philosophy and Ayurveda and it has a ripple effect to all the other areas!

A Road Map to Authentic Living part II

Last time we explored how non-violence and truthfulness can support us in our personal growth and authentic living. Through exploring how we invite the Yamas into our lives we create more ease in our work and relationships.

This week we will explore the last 3 Yamas:

  • Astyeya, non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya, non-excess
  • Aparigraha, non-possessiveness

Asteya. How do we steal from ourselves and others? We steal through comparison and judgement. For many of us social media is the biggest stealer (of time, self-worth,.  We take things that don’t belong to us, not just physical objects, but we steal attention, we steal recognition, time, happiness, energy, autonomy and more. Asteya asks us to lift others up and give back. Think about the laws of reciprocity or the law of attraction. What we put out into the world, comes back to us. We often live small and steal from ourselves. We don’t go after our dreams because we lie to ourselves, saying things like, “you’re not good enough”, “now’s not the right time,” or “someday”. The other day someone in my networking group shared a quotation, “There are 7 days in a week and Someday is not one of them.”  One way we can lift ourselves up is by growing our competence. What skills or tools do you need to close the gap between where you are today and where you want to be in the future? Do you want to become a better speaker, earn more money, have a different job, be in a different relationship? Who are the people who can help you become more skilled at getting what you want?

Brahmacharya. This can also be thought of as “moderation”. Often times we get stuck in a cycle of excess. Have you looked in your closet recently to see it full of clothes you don’t wear? Are you constantly trying to keep up with the Jones’?  If we stopped looking outside of ourselves for satisfaction or gratification, we wouldn’t need to have as much. We overwork, we overeat, we overexercise, oversleep, overspend, we over do it. Tying this back into Asteya (non-stealing), what do you really want? What if you focus on your needs for a moment and were truthful (Satya) about your course of action? You can begin to tame your overindulgences in order to experience more pleasure and joy from the things that are truly meaningful. What might this look like for you?

Aparigraha. Non-possessiveness asks us to let go of the stuff that is no longer serving us. Let go of the excess clutter. Let go of the baggage that is weighing you down. Again, these might be physical items, they might be thoughts or beliefs or even relationships. The practice of letting go isn’t something that we can just do because we say were are going to let go… It is a process, of becoming aware, being vulnerable and moving from attachment to intimacy without possession. A great example is parents and their children. As parents we are attached to our childs’ wellbeing and are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure they are happy and healthy. Along with non-violence and truthfulness, we need to be able to let our kids learn and grow on their own and to make mistakes. As they become teenagers and young adults, we have to recognize our own fears, our own thoughts and beliefs about what we think is right, and allow our kids to be their own person, to make their own choices.

Each of the Yamas can be explored independently or in relation to each other. The Yamas require us to make choices. They don’t tell us what is right or what is wrong. Aparigraha helped me to recognize a toxic relationship I had that was weighing me down and limiting my professional growth. It took me a long time to let that relationship go. Using the concepts of Non-violence and Truthfulness, and Non-stealing helped me become aware of the relationship dynamics, my role in it, and helped to make the right choices to negotiate the relationship and manoeuvre my way out of it.  Now I am living more authentically aligned to my values and have created space for healing to arise.

If you’d like to learn more or want some support in your exploration of the Yamas and Niyamas let’s chat.

A Road Map to Authentic Living

The Yamas and Niyamas are ethical guidelines or a map that help us make choices that are supportive and growth oriented. This is a two part post on how we can use these guidelines to support us in finding more ease in our lives.

According to the Yoga Sutras there are 8 branches of yoga that when practiced is designed to help the practitioner live a deeper and more fulfilled life. The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two branches, followed by asana – what we know as the yoga postures. So in sense we can think of the Yamas and Niyamas as guidelines for how to conduct our lives day to day which is more important than the physical movement practice. Asana came much later as a tool to help prepare the body for meditation.

There are 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas. The Yamas are guidelines for how relate to our environment and other people. The Niyamas are guidelines for how we relate to ourselves.

Yamas:

  1. Ahimsa: non-violence
  2. Satya: truthfulness
  3. Asteya: non-stealing
  4. Bramacharya: non-excess
  5. Aparigraha: non-possessiveness

Today I want to explore the concepts of Ahimsa and Satya and how we might use these principles to step into a more authentic sense of being.

Ahimsa, or non-violence encompasses our ability to move through life with courage, compassion and love for ourselves and others. Satya, or truthfulness, goes intimately hand in hand with non-violence. To be truthful, asks us to live in a way where we express ourselves in a way that is real and authentic. It’s about expressing our needs in order to grow and act with integrity and purpose.

Ahimsa encourages us to be courageous, to be brave. Do something that scares you by taking a small step out of your comfort zone, in the name of personal growth. Small steps help us to grow our comfort zone while also maintaining a level of safety.  When we stay in our fear, we are small and limited, and are essentially harming our potential. Practicing compassion, forgiveness and being kind and loving towards ourselves, helps us to extend the same warmth towards others. We are really harder on ourselves than we are on our friends or family. Self-acceptance and learning to love all aspects of ourselves carries over into all other aspects of our life.

With Truthfulness we need to seek a balance between being “real” and being “nice”. We don’t have to sacrifice our needs to appear “nice” or perfect or helpful. Acting with integrity also prevents us from using our truth as a way of hurting someone else.

Satya also asks us to express ourselves. When we limit ourselves with shoulds or should nots (based on our beliefs or what we hear from others), redirects our attention to indulgence. We hide behind overworking or over-eating or over-exercising, rather than doing what we really want to do.

Satya asks us to grow! This might mean making changes to the group(s) we belong to. Look at how the environment of the people you interact with supports or conflicts with who and how you want be in the world. Speaking our truth  and acting on it, can be difficult at times. It requires courage. Sometimes the cost of our realness just seems too high. Be brave.

Have you ever had to reneg on a promise? Do you overextend yourself? Do you then avoid the person you agreed to help, because you just don’t have the time? What might life be like if you didn’t have to apologize or cancel or avoid? These things happen because we cheat the truth and then are left with messes to clean up. Being truthful with ourselves and what we can take on our plate grows us into someone who acts and speaks with integrity, someone who is reliable and trustworthy.

The compassion of non-violence keeps truthfulness from being a personal weapon. It reminds us to think about what we say and do and how it will impact those around us.

There are many ways we can use these Yamas in application to our life. We might look at these concepts and see how they show up in our lives and consider small things we can do to improve our relationships. A friend who went through a divorce last year, used the Yamas to support herself through those trying days, weeks and months. A colleague who wanted to live in a way that was more aligned with her values, use the Yamas to guide her choices. In my personal yoga therapy practice I reflect on one aspect of a Yama each week to grow my awareness and understanding of how I show up in the world so I can be more present with my family and my clients.

This week,  consider one aspect of Ahimsa or Satya that resonated with you and explore how it shows up in your life.