Yamas

The yamas: Thoughts on aparigraha

Hi there, yoga lovers! I’m reposting this reflection on aparigraha from my “Yama Studies” during Teacher Training. Aparigraha is one of the five yamas. It is often translated as ‘non-grasping,’ ‘non-clinging,’ or ‘non-hoarding.’ It came up in class this week, and I thought it would be better to re-post it rather than trying to remember what I had written. 😉

Enjoy!

Working on Aparigraha, for me, puts great emphasis on transitioning from an ego-bound identity to identifying primarily as Self. I find that trying to verbalize my experiences with the yamas often conflicts with truly experiencing them. If I practice aparigraha with the thought in mind that I will have to say something coherent about it soon, getting the words right can take over the process. I end up trying to narrate my life rather than live it. This has actually been a very strong attachment in my life- my attachment to words. As I attempt to take a ‘living’ approach to aparigraha, I see that my virtual hoarding of words and stories is indicative of a larger pattern for me. I see that this attachment is only part of my ego’s attempt to build a sense of permanence and security around it. “All these things, all these words- maybe if I can just arrange them in the right way, I will finally know who I am and where I stand. Then, I can tell everyone about it and be a happy, functioning individual,” or so says my ego.

Attachment or hoarding create the cushion that encases my fragile ego. Still, it never achieves the perfect permanence and completeness that it ‘requires’ to feel stable. It needs new things, new descriptions, more!! to gather around it before it can finally feel whole. The trouble is that the more the ego hoards and the larger the cushion grows, the more insulated I become against feeling connected to Life. Ironically, this effort to know who I am keeps me from knowing who I AM. Ego and attachment keep me locked in a limited sense of identity. They keep me from knowing my own eternal nature. So, the practice of aparigraha for me is fundamentally about telling my ego, “It’s not you, it’s me… but I hope we can stay friends,” and letting my Higher Self be my guide. Coming from that perspective, letting go is a much simpler process.

Namaste!

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WWHSD? (What would Higher Self do?)

Well, my friends, we’re 10 days past the fall equinox now, and my fall check-in is over. The intensive period of “fall cleaning” has come to an end, and I have much more clarity about the work I have ahead of me in the remainder of 2012. As I was preparing to teach this week, I hoped to bring some of my new-found inspirations to the mat and share them with my students. So, what is my final answer? What bits of wisdom do I have to impart as we move ahead? In short, love, love, love yourself. When it comes time to choose, choose love!

As part of my fall check-in, I listened to Doreen Virtue’s Chakra Clearing: A Morning and Evening Meditation to Awaken Your Spiritual Power (available on iTunes) regularly. It was a great addition to the process, doing the kind of clearing energetically that the fall winds are working on outside right now. The segment related to the sacral chakra resonated most with me.

In that segment, she asks the listener to release their appetites and desires to the light within, aligning the listener’s personal will with the One Will of their Higher Self and Source.

Two of the most active fronts of my fall check-in involved my efforts to give up caffeine and sugar. At times, I would catch myself pre-assuming that hitting the drive-thru for a big, tall, sugary drink was part of the plan. My habits and appetites were over-riding my power of choice without me even noticing. So, along with a regimen of hip-opening poses (balancing for the sacral chakra) on the mat, I relied on the affirmation that I shared with you last week:

“I am harmoniously aligned with the ceaseless flow of supply and love that springs from the golden fountain of light from within my center. All of my desires are perfectly balanced right now.”

It became like a kind of WWHSD (What would my Higher Self do)? And, guess what? The answer was nearly always the same: Make the choice that is kind, loving, and life-affirming. Doing so now will have ripples of positivity far into the future.

I had chosen to let go of caffeine and sugar because, despite an initial boost, they leave me feeling depleted and… just plain yucky. More and more lately, those trips to the drive-thru would end with me feeling sick, anxious, and jittery. Each time I saw the same result, I would wonder why on earth I was making the same mistakes over and over- and treating myself so unkindly. Rather than dwell, I decided to make a better choice, and the habit of turning to my Higher Self in moments when I was tested was supporting that process. After I had been working with that for a few days, I came to a new level of understanding… while browsing videos on YouTube. YouTube was recommending a video from Doreen’s Angel Detox Month. The title or description asked something like, “Has your Higher Self been guiding you to give up alcohol?”

Click!

Had my Higher Self been speaking to me all along (though I wasn’t getting an A+ at listening)? Had it actually been my Higher Self asking me to make more loving, healthy choices for myself? Had my choice to focus on phasing out caffeine and sugar been guided by my Higher Self?

Of course.

I became more intent on being open and present to the wisdom of my Higher Self. Then, pop! The same word kept coming up over and over- Ahimsa. To be more in tune with the wisdom of my Higher Self is to be dedicated to observing Ahimsa, or non-harming. Always make the kind, loving, compassionate choice, beginning with the choices I make for myself.

As all of these pieces began to fall into place, I came across and article by Erica Rodefer, 5 Questions Before Going Deeper. In her article, she explores the practice of Ahimsa on the mat. She interprets the Sri Sathya Sai Baba quote, “Before you speak, think- is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?,” for the practice of asana.

The points she brought up in her article served as a great springboard for introducing Ahimsa into my class this week. I offered her questions to my students as a way to bring their attention back to the present moment, back to their breathing, and back to a place of listening to the cues they get from their bodies, as well as from the wisdom within.

I encouraged them to be open and honest with themselves in determining the version of the poses that suited them best. After all, going into a deeper expression of a posture can, even will, come over time with dedication and mindful attention to the body’s cues. Making the safest, most loving choice for your body right now will lead to being able to go deeper after time. The inverse, however, is not true. Pushing to go deeper now will not lead to good form in the future. In fact, it will likely lead to an injury in time. It may momentarily flatter your ego or satisfy some appetite, but is that worth making a choice that may endanger your well-being in the long run? If you pause to ask yourself- is it kind? is it necessary? will it hurt anyone?, and then listen for the wisdom of your Higher Self, the answer will be clear.

Namaste!

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Ahims-huh??

I was just thinking about ways to regain my focus in my observance of Ahimsa when I came across this video of the Dalai Lama at the presentation to His Holiness of the Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace during the Kalachakara for World Peace in Bodh Gaya, India, on January 4, 2012.

Takin’ notes. ♥

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I get by with a little help

It’s been nearly a month now that I’ve been focusing on the practice of Ahimsa. From the beginning, I was aware that observing non-violence goes beyond peacefulness in my words and actions toward others. I had mentioned Donna Farhi’s more inclusive description, which basically says that any thought, word, or deed that inhibits a being from growing to their fullest potential is a violation of Ahimsa.

The challenge of practicing Ahimsa in that way was rolling around in my head as I began my observance. It required attention not only to interpersonal interactions, but attention to my treatment of myself- in my habits, my thoughts, my reactions, on every level, really. I had to bring a high degree of mindfulness to what I do and how I do it in order to better understand the ways I could be inhibiting my own personal growth and the growth of others.

Within a very short time, I began seeing all the signs that my habits, my diet, my care of myself and my body are shaped by my well-being on an emotional and spiritual level. If I am to allow myself to evolve into the highest and best version of me, I must begin my observance of Ahimsa on an emotional and spiritual level. Slightly daunting, I must say.

So, I began meditating and asking for guidance and doing what I do… and then the Angels arrived. Last week, everywhere I turned, it was emotional health, emotional health, emotional health. I got the message, but I was still experiencing just a little panic about the prospect. I mean, seriously… emotional health. Dealing with my emotions. Putting my foot behind my head? Yes, I can do that. Drinking kale juice? No problem. Sitting in silent meditation daily? Yes, PLEASE! But dealing with my emotions? Shouldn’t I have a doctor or some tranquilizers or something for that??

Thankfully, I am not the do-er. I need simply to allow, and I am not alone as I move forward on my path. See, this week, everywhere I turned, it was Angels, Angels, Angels. They are here, and they want nothing more than to be of aid. Already, two amazing, healing Angel meditations have fallen into my lap. The first is a guided meditation video with Doreen Virtue. The second is an Angel meditation for overcoming anxiety. It can be found here.

Try introducing these meditations into your practice if you feel you could use a little help from your Angels. I am so grateful for both of them, and I had to share.

Thank you, Angels! ♥

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Happiness is…

You are here in this lifetime because there was a need on Earth for you. Exactly you. Just as you are and who you are. The universe called you forth because there was a part that only you could play. That’s how important your life is.

As a 5th grader, I played Patty in my school’s production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” She’s not one of the more well-known Peanuts. And she’s not Peppermint Patty. She’s just Patty. In the big final song, Patty has one solo line to sing… “Happiness is playing the drum in your own school band.” Trust me when I tell you that I stepped into the spotlight and belted it with all my little heart.

This life is your moment in the sun, and the song you sing is you. If you really feel like belting it so that it resonates in every corner, be the fullest and most authentic expression of you that you can possibly be.

I mentioned before that Ahimsa (the Yama that I’m focusing on currently) is commonly interpreted as ‘non-violence.’ Sooo… I don’t yell at anyone or punch them in the face and I’m cool, right? Done and done.

Not so fast there, tiger…

Donna Farhi expands on the definition (very usefully, I think) by saying that Ahimsa is refraining from any act that would inhibit a being from growing to its fullest potential. Ground floor of that establishment, for me, is letting go of judgment. Judgment is not my business. It’s The Judge’s business. And guess what? The Judge loves all and forgives all, so it really must be none of my business to find someone guilty for being who they are.

I tend to have some unconventional ideas from time to time- not so much ‘mainstream.’ One of the most important lessons I’ve picked up along the way is that I don’t need everyone to agree with me. I don’t need to convert everyone to my way of thinking. I simply need to respect others’ right to be themselves and pray that they return the favor.

Sounds great, right? Easy enough… I’ll do that. But wait!! I kinda sorta left something out. Something that I find to be the most challenging part of the whole exercise. Unconditional acceptance has to begin within. You have to grow the seed before you can give away the tomatoes.

Unconditional acceptance is so critical to me as I evolve that I practice sending it to each of my trillions of cells. I meditate and pray to find guidance to my fullest potential and to master the Divine art of acceptance. To know my Self so that I may realize my purpose.

Letting go of the limitations and restrictions of my ‘reality,’ I’ve come to see the big picture- ie, we are all cells in the body of Source. Source sends unconditional acceptance to each of us. How crucial is it that the nerve cells in your body don’t wake up tomorrow and feel pressure to become bone cells? How important is it that the skin cells don’t decide they’re threatened by the muscle cells and need to eradicate them? Thank goodness they don’t. They each have their part to play and they play it.

That is just how important your life is.

Om Shanti.

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Read this… slowly

The universe has an amazing way of providing me with every lesson I need. But often, the noise of my own wheels turning keeps me from paying attention. Thank goodness that the cosmic professor is not one to throw her hands up easily. (You’re her favorite student, by the way. You. Are.)

In the Summer of 2010, I was on a hot streak with my reading list. I had been praying for guidance and I was led to three books that changed my life [Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, and Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita]. I was tremendously inspired. I saw creation though new eyes (or perhaps a single eye), yet I hadn’t given myself a chance to sit with what I was learning and absorb it.

So, she sat back and looked at my effort and said, “I’m very proud of you. You’ve been working very hard. You’re doing well on your homework and tests, but I still get the feeling that you’re not fully getting it. Try this.”

I skinned my knee nearly to the bone, and I couldn’t bend it. I had almost zero range of motion in my right shoulder. All the things I do in a day that I take for granted suddenly required great attention- if I could do them at all. Talk about humbling… I couldn’t walk. I could only shuffle and limp. I’m right-handed. I had to do everything one-handed with my left hand. Still, I stayed committed to meditating and practicing (the most gentle) yoga every day. In fact, almost everything but that had stopped.

In the stillness, I could hear the message loud and clear, “Slow down! You don’t have to rush. Everything you need is right here, right now.” I had to bring my full attention to the present moment… and it was awesome. It required such presence and inspired such gratitude and humility that every action became a ceremony. I had read that this moment is not just a bridge to some point in the future. Finally, I understood the power of that on every level of my being.

To learn the lessons I needed to learn about healing, I had to have it broken down like that. I had to experience that time of healing my physical body so that that energy could begin to ripple into other areas. As I’m focusing on Ahimsa now, I’m reminded that growth does not require ‘go, go, go.’ Sometimes it requires just the opposite.

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The Yamas: Ahimsa and the ants

Donna Farhi explains Ahimsa (non-violence) as not doing anything that will inhibit the growth of any being. I acknowledge that I inhibit my own spiritual growth with negative thinking and habits. Those are all acts of violence against myself. I vow to be mindful of practicing Ahimsa inward and outward.

If anything, my practice of Ahimsa served to reinforce that all great things must begin in the present moment. Even if I have no bad intentions whatsoever, my actions can still create chaos when they don’t come from a place of mindfulness. This message has been brought to you by my roommates, the ants.

During my yoga teacher training, I gave myself permission to ignore housework entirely. Yay, me! Then, I came home to find that the ants had taken over. Up until then, I went about getting rid of the ants like it was just plain bad housekeeping if there was an ant. Anywhere. Ever. Even though for every one I killed, ten seemed to pop up in its place.

But during this week, I stopped to watch the ants marching six-deep across my countertop, and I decided to let the ants be the ants. They reminded me very much of videos I had seen of blood circulating in the human body. I cleaned up what was necessary, and the ants retreated somewhat. Miracle of miracles!

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