yoga philosophy

Commit to Your Practice

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On some days, getting on the mat becomes a little harder, especially when you are tired, or when there are a thousand things more important that yoga. For me, I find it extremely hard when my mind is in a mess. It just doesn’t want to quieten down.

My own practice does get compromised from time to time, whether it’s for legit reasons, or just excuses (mostly the latter, unfortunately). Each time I notice myself slipping off my regular practice, I hear my teacher in my head “Practise. Commit. Trust the yoga.”

This quote from Elena Brower (one of the most inspiring yoga teachers/writers around) always serves as a good reminder:

“Practice as much as you can. We might not always want to practice, but when we get in our bodies, we are in our hearts, and able to listen and be present for everything in our lives. Go get on your mat, and enjoy your practice today.”

I hope you guys do the same too.

Choose Kindness

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I’m about to embark on an advanced teacher training with my teacher, and this has invited a lot of introspection on my yoga journey. What really drew me into this practice and the deeper meanings of yoga is the philosophy teachings which have the way I approach life. 

I remembered very vividly the one of the learnings that struck me greatly was on Compassion. I mean I trust that most, if not all, of us a compassionate by nature. But due to various factors or life circumstances, we lost or reacted without connecting with our innate nature. This teaching guides us to connect with ourselves at our core.  

In yogic teachings, this concept to known as Ahimsa (in Sanskrit), literally translated as Non-violence - also the first of the Yamas (ethical principles) in Patanjali’s Sutras Eight-Limbed Path (more about it here).

It simply means to Be Kind, to look at every being with love, however different they are to you. Yes, and that certainly includes ourselves.

How do you practise Ahimsa on and off the mat?

Ekhart Yoga (one of my favorite online resources) talks about how you could incorporate Ahimsa in various aspects of your life, on and off the mat. Just some very brief points extracted from there:

Ahimsa in Asana: It’s normal to feel frustrated when our physical yoga practice doesn’t progress as quickly as we’d like. Ahimsa guides us to let go of thinking negatively about body; accepting ourselves completely – no matter how strong or flexible we are at this moment. Non-violence in the physical sense here means we don’t push ourselves over the edge; of course we challenge ourselves in order to grow, leaning in to that sometimes scary edge, but never pushing ourselves to the point of harm.

Ahimsa in Diet: Do I have to be vegetarian or vegan now I’m practising yoga? While the guidance of Ahimsa advises not harming another living thing, and therefore suggesting abstaining from eating animals, there has to be a balance. If cutting out certain things from your diet causes you harm, then it’s important to consider what works best. 

Ahimsa in Thoughts: Our thoughts play such a big role in our overall wellbeing. You may be the healthiest person you know; eating well, exercising lots, drinking your green smoothies, doing everything ‘right’ – but if your thoughts are still harmful, you can bet you’re not feeling as good as you could.

Read the full article from Ekhart Yoga here if you are interested.

Again, the practice of Ahimsa includes our attitude towards ourselves. Sometimes, it’s so easy to be kind to others, but not to ourselves. Don’t you agree?

If you’ve got a Type A personality (like I did, and still have perhaps), you are probably always wanting more and more. You are never enough, you are never contented with what’s happening right now. So again, pause and ask yourself – is it your ego taking over?

There isn’t a checklist of the To-Dos or Not-To-Dos to practise AHIMSA. This is a massive topic in itself, but just give it some thoughts, and see how you can apply it in life.

You know, you can gain so much perspectives and apply them to your life from these yogic philosophic teachings. Yoga to me has become so much more than what I am doing on the mat. Learning about the philosophy have transformed my life in such a huge way I find it hard to articulate.

Perhaps, you will come to a point that you no longer care about what you can or cannot do on the mat, whether you can twist like pretzels or put your leg behind your head. Physical and breath practice is still very beneficial to keep a fit, healthy body and mind, but really the philosophies are huge life transformers!

Always finding it a challenge to incorporate these teachings in physical yoga classes nowadays (still working on it), so hopefully I can share more via this blog. Stay tuned for more or join our Facebook group here!

Aparigraha / Non-attachment

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This concept has been running through my head very often recently, and I'd really love to share with you guys this yogic teaching of Non-attachment. In Sanskrit, it’s called Aparigraha – also the fifth Yama or simplistically one of the teachings in the 8 Limbs of Yoga.

Aparigraha often translates as ‘non-greed’, ‘non-possessiveness’, and ‘non-attachment’. It teaches us to take only what we need, keep only what serves us in the moment, and to let go when the time is right.

Aparigraha is one of the central teachings in the Yogic text the Bhagavad Gita, in which one of the teachings that could perhaps be the most important lesson of all to learn: ‘Let your concern be with action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction’.

What it means, is that we should never concern ourselves with the outcome of a situation, we should only concern ourselves with what we’re actually doing right now as we work towards that outcome.

What are the things we as humans are attached to? We are attached to results, memories, relationships, things that make us feel good. Well, you might ask, what’s wrong with being attached to things or people that make us feel good? Or striving for results or achievements.

Nothing’s wrong absolutely. It does not mean that we stop working hard, or stop setting goals, because we need all these in life to keep us driven, to feel purposeful, to love and feel loved, that’s how we humans are programmed to function daily. But truth is, it indeed is such a fine line that it’s hard to grasp.  The problems arise when the attachment reaches an extent that causes disappointment or misery to ourselves. How about when our attachment to a wonderful past experience makes us reluctant to try something new, and becomes an obstacle to our growth?

Case in point – take a pause now for just a few moments and think of maybe just one recent happening when you have felt depressed or upset, is it due to an over-attachment to something? Would you have felt better or easier if you have just let that go?

Over the years, I have come to realise that life is 80% about letting go, letting go and letting go. Maybe right now, you may not be able to relate fully to this concept. But keep this close to your heart, so it will be right there when you need it.

Read this article on Ekhart Yoga that discusses how we can cultivate non-attachment on and off the mat.

Yoga Philosophy 101: What are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?

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Most of us discovered yoga through the practice of the 3rd limb – Asana (refers to the poses we do in yoga class) because we want to get a little stronger, more flexible or to relieve stress. But as you progress in your practice on the mat, it’s rewarding to be able to delve deeper into the other aspects of yoga.

YES, there is a whole wealth of philosophy and life teachings behind this ancient practice, which was what drew me deeper into this practice (geek!)

So why do we do yoga? The ultimate goal of yoga practice is to attain liberation or freedom.

The word ‘yoga’ means to connect, unite or ‘yoke’. The thing we look to connect to is the true Self. You might also think of this as the soul. If that way of thinking doesn’t resonate with you, then consider that the word yoga can also mean separation or disentanglement. The thing we’re disentangling from is whatever stops us from feeling free.

What are the 8 Limbs of Yoga?

Yoga and everything it encompasses is built upon a framework called the Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga. It is an eight-fold path that offers guidelines for a meaningful and purposeful life, to ultimately achieve a state of samadhi, bliss or enlightenment.

Here is just an overview of the 8 limbs.

1) Yama - Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows (think of these like The Five Commandments)
Ahisma – nonviolence
Satya – truthfulness
Asteya – non-stealing
Brahmacharya – right use of energy
Aparigraha – non-hoarding, non-attachment

2) Niyama – Duties or observances directed at ourselves (inward)
Sauca – purity
Santosa – contentment
Tapas – zeal/austerity
Svadhyaya – self-study
Isvara Pranidhana – devotion to a higher power

3) Asana – Postures or the physical practice of yoga

4) Pranayama – Breathing techniques

5) Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses

6) Dharana – Focused concentation

7) Dhyana - Meditation

8) Samadhi – Bliss or Enlightenment

Ekhart Yoga provides a very detailed and accessible explanation of each of these 8 limbs. Read more here.