LV Yoga, Fareham
As you may know, I recently passed my 500 advanced yoga teacher training. I’ve just been reading through my essays and wanted to share this one with you. Enjoy!
Yoga is a Way of Life
At twelve years into my yoga journey (at least in this lifetime!) I can most definitely concur that yoga is a way of life. Although, yoga didn’t begin as a way of life for me. Like many in the western world, it began as a weekly ‘exercise’ class. After dabbling with the Wii Fit yoga practice for a few months, one drunken night with my friend Lyndsay, we decided to sign up for yoga classes thinking it was the laziest way to get fit! After a few months my friend gave up the practice, leaving me flying solo at my weekly yoga class. Before I knew it, my class turned from weekly to twice weekly, into something that became an essential part of my world and my being. Eight years into my practice, and after considering it for many years, I took the big brave leap to begin my journey to become a yoga teacher, and I haven’t stopped learning since!
Through this essay, I hope to be able to demonstrate what I have learned thus far about how yoga is a way of life. I shall touch on the spiritual philosophy and texts, my interpretation of yoga and how it connects with my personal experience of yoga.
Let’s begin with The Bhagavad Gita. A story of two men, Krishna and Arjuna, cousins who go to war over a Kingdom. Now I can’t pretend that I fully understand this text. Having read it several times, had many, many discussions, I still find myself conflicted every time I read it. Much like Krishna and Arjuna, I feel at war with myself. And each time I read it, I find a different hidden meaning or interpretation within it. I believe that this text takes a lifetime of study and your ability to connect with it and your interpretation of it will change throughout your lifetime.
“Those who set their hearts on me and ever in love worship me, and who have unshakable faith, these I hold as the best yogis” – Mascaro, 1962
This quote is an example of where I have previously found myself torn. On the surface it would seem as though in order to be accepted as a yogi, you must unquestionably bow to Krishna and worship him as God. However, upon further study and discussion, I came to realise that Krishna is me, as is Arujna. Arjuna represents my outer-self, and Krishna represents my inner self. And the battle I have with The Bhagavad Gita is a battle with myself, between my ego and my true being.
I often consider this battle in my daily life, when faced with things that I feel are out of alignment with my own beliefs. I can be very outspoken, and often wish to challenge people who I believe are compromising my personal values. I have regularly placed myself into situations where I find myself standing on a moral high ground and challenging those who don’t join me, and this often ends in me burning bridges with people, particularly employers. The Bhagavad Gita teaches me to honour my truth, and that it is possible to do so by simply doing what is necessary and trying not to judge the situation or other peoples’ morals during the process, for that battle is only with myself and for my own personal growth.
There is one particular message in The Bhagavad Gita that really resonates with me:
“The wise grieve not for those who live; and they grieve not for those who die – for life and death shall pass away. Because we all have been for all time: I, and thou, and those kings of men. And we all shall be for all time, we all for ever and ever” – Mascaro, 1962
I have experienced a lot of loss in my life, in particular over a three year period between 2011 to 2014, whereby I lost multiple family members, including my Father. My belief in spiritual existence and reincarnation has allowed me to get through this grief, knowing that they still exist out there in spirit, and that one day we shall reunite. This gives me the opportunity to not be sad about death, but to be hopeful for afterlife. Knowing that everything and every lifetime is part of a spiritual journey.
The Upanishads also offer insight into reincarnation, known as Samsara. It refers to the spirit as Atman, and that spirit reincarnates over and over as it learns its lessons through Karma, until it reaches Moksha (nirvana), where it will connect with Brahman (the absolute almighty).
“He that does good, becomes good. He that does evil, becomes evil” – Mascaro, 1965
This text reminds me to do good, because I want to move onto my next reincarnation knowing that I learned my lessons in this one, bringing myself closer to Moksha. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali offer further guidance on the ethical conduct of a yogi, particularly through the first two limbs, the Yamas and Niyamas.
The Yamas are the first five guidelines of yoga: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (non-lying), Asteya (non-stealing), Brachmacharya (non-excess), Aparigrapha (non-possessiveness). I often find myself referring to the Yamas, both for my own benefit and with students in my classes. I talk regularly of Ahimsa and Asteya, encouraging students not to push their bodies too far in their asana practice, thus not being violent to their own bodies, and reminding them to ensure they turn up for classes that they’ve booked onto, thus not stealing the opportunity from somebody else. These are just two simple examples of how the Yamas become part of my teaching.
In my personal life, each of these Yamas plays a role in shaping who I am and the world I create around me. I am fortunate in that I have been raised with many of these values, but yoga helps remind me of them and ensure I act in a way that is in alignment with my truth. Satya is particularly present in my life, and I am often known for being too honest! For me, honesty and integrity go hand in hand, and Satya really encompasses these values that I hold to such importance in my life. Ahimsa is something that I’ve had to practice a lot and that I keep growing with. For example, I’ve only recently started to explore vegetarianism. Having been raised a meat eater, and having married a Greek man, I have found it particularly hard to embrace this side of yoga. I do, to some extent, still believe that humans are meant to eat meat. Particularly as I’m exploring vitamin B12 deficiency at the moment. However, since learning of Ahimsa, it has played on my mind at every meal where I eat meat, and I no longer feel right about eating it. Over the last six months or so, I have operated an ‘everything is a contribution’ policy. For every meat-free meal I eat, I honour this as a contribution to Ahimsa. I am now almost completely vegetarian. I no longer buy or cook meat at home, but I cannot claim to be 100% vegetarian as I am still taking B12 injections and sometimes ‘fall off the wagon’ if we eat out. But my awareness has increased, and subsequently, my contribution to Ahimsa has improved greatly.
The Niyamas are the second set of guidelines for yogis: Saucha (purity), Santosa (contentment), Tapas (self-discipline), Svadhyaya (self-study), Ishwara prandihana (devotion to God). These are the yogic observations.
I particularly resonate with the following quote about the Yamas and Niyamas:
“These forms of abstention are basic rules of conduct. They must be practiced without reservations as to time, place, purpose, or caste rules” – Prabhavananda & Isherwood, 1981
For anyone who knows me well, they may be surprised that I resonate with the quote above. I’m known for being quite anti-rules, but the truth is that I’m anti-rules that I don’t believe serve a purpose for people’s higher and greater good. This quote reminds me that regardless of caste rules, I can apply my yogic beliefs at any time, knowing that I’m maintaining integrity and acting within my beliefs and values.
“However, when a conflict arises between the need to belong and the need to grow, we have to make a choice. We must either sacrifice a part of ourselves to maintain our belonging, or we must risk the approval and support of the group by growing.” – Adele, 2009
In learning this, similar to the teachings of The Bhagavad Gita, I am learning that I can approach disagreement still holding my morals intact but without having to burn any bridges. Remembering that this is growth for me, rather than me trying to force growth onto other people. If that means I need to move on from a situation, then I can move on knowing that I’ve dealt with it from my true self rather than from my ego.
Patanjali’s sutras describe yoga as meaning ‘unity’.
“Yoga is a way to restore our lost wholeness, our integrity as complete human beings, by unifying the personality around a centre that is silent and unbounded” – Shearer, 1982
The quote above really helps me to understand what is meant by ‘unity’. Yoga is working towards stillness, not simply physical stillness, but stillness of the mind. The sutras talk in depth about Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana and Dhyana – the practical methods required to reach Samadhi, becoming one with the universe, Brahman.
For many, they begin with Asanas, the physical practice of yoga, and often that will be enough for them in this lifetime. This too is where I began. The physical practice has brought so many amazing benefits to my life. For years I have been experiencing chronic health issues, many of which remain undiagnosed. There was a point in 2014 when I was advised to stop yoga all together by a Doctor. Thankfully I’m too stubborn to listen! I knew deep inside that yoga was saving my body, not making it worse. And I struggle to imagine what my life and my health would be like now had I listened to him.
Through asanas, I became connected with this practice and, for whatever reason, couldn’t shake it off! Whenever I took a break from yoga classes, or tried to do something different, I just kept getting drawn back. The more I practiced asanas, the more I wanted to learn. Yoga has taken me on a journey, and I would go as far as to say that it took me along without any control of my own. It’s been such a natural and organic process for me. I never set out to become a yoga teacher, but it just took me there. And here I am, still wanting to learn and grow with it. Despite how busy my life is, and despite those moments of ‘I could really do without this right now’, I’m here. Because it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be. Almost as though it’s been pre-destined.
So yes, yoga is a way of life. The asanas help stretch and maintain my physical body, pranayama helps calm my body and mind, Pratyahara and Dharana help clear my mind and connect me to my true self, the Yamas and Niyamas help instruct my life, keeping me on track and keeping me kind, and the wise texts of The Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali help me to connect with the ancient philosophy of yoga.
With yoga I’ve learned to honour myself, my body, my mind and my spirit. And with yoga, I’ve learned how to impart this knowledge to others through my teaching practice and through demonstrating it by living my most authentic life.
Simply by reading this essay back to myself, I can recognise all the ways that yoga has become a fundamental part of my life, and I feel proud to see how far I’ve come and feel humbled knowing how far I have left to go. It’s with great excitement that I take each new step on my yoga journey.
‘How to Know God’ by Prabhavananda & Isherwood, 1981
‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ by Shearer, 1982
‘Your Quest for a Spiritual Life’ by Corrigan, 2010
‘The Yamas & Niyamas’ by Adele, 2009
‘The Upanishads’ by Mascaro, 1965
‘The Bhagavad Gita’ by Mascaro, 1962